Shopping for sustainability?
I was perusing the always excellent ENDS Report the other day and noticed that there were three consecutive articles covering big sustainability ventures by big retailers: John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Boots. Big retail has long had a bad press, often justified, for killing high street diversity, driving down producer incomes and globalised, high carbon supply chains.
But while all that buying power can be a bad thing, it can also be a force for good. When these big buyers say “jump”, suppliers shout “how high?” If they say “we want environmentally friendly products at top quality and competitive prices”, they will get them. In the Green Executive we saw how retailers like Marks & Spencer have the power to build whole new supply chains for sustainable materials.
The other twist for the big sheds is, unlike smaller retailers, they suffer from tall poppy syndrome. The fear of damaging their all important brand by being accused of greenwash drives them to do things properly. Similarly they don’t want to be seen to fall behind their competitors.
Interestingly at the same time, environmental concern amongst consumers is said to be falling – probably due to short term financial worries.
So with the power and the motivation, there is a strong argument that the sustainability revolution will be driven by shops, rather than shoppers.