Businesses thrash-out sustainability challenges

Sustainability leaders from a range of UK brands gathered in London yesterday (January 24) to thrash-out solutions to sustainability challenges, arguing that collaboration between businesses has a crucial part to play in improving sustainability.

Speaking at the in the inaugural 2degrees summit, which aimed to stimulate debate on the environmental sustainability challenges faced by businesses, were sustainability heads from Waitrose, Unilever and GlaxoSmithKline who outlined how they had improved the sustainability of their operations through engaging employees, the board and the supply chain.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) global head environmental sustainability Richard Pamenter, said: “What is sustainability? It is using fewer resources to get the end result. Everyone in business can contribute to that”.

He added that GSK had in particular taken radical steps to reduce water use in its direct operations and supply chain.

Unilever global vice president for communications and sustainability Geoff McDonald agreed saying “Unilever can’t do it on its own but it can do it in partnership. Partnership is in our benefit and the rest of the world”.

Meanwhile, Waitrose head of sustainability Quentin Clark spoke about the challenges businesses face in engaging the supply chain, saying that no business can afford to ignore sustainability as “saving resources, saves money and every business must be motivated to do that”.

He also claimed “economical sustainability depends on the sustainability of the supply chain”, and as a result he considers the retail process part of the supply chain process. “So you both have to work together. It doesn’t really matter whether those values are cheap and cheerful or green and ethical”.

Mr Clark added: “But, you now have a responsibility to make sure your business is sustainable as well”, adding that he believes businesses have no choice to improve sustainability as many products, such as fish, are going to become harder to source.

Meanwhile, he said that relying on “customer pull on ethical issues is a cop-out”, as though consumers do care about the sustainability of the goods they are buying that it is “dangerous to trust them to make the right decision”. Rather, the “responsibility lies back in the supply chain with the retailer, the processor and the producer”.

Q&A panellists were also present from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Reckitt Benckiser, BT, BMW, Philips Lighting and Volans, as well as about 200 attendees, including representatives from Marks & Spencer, Boots, The Body Shop, London Underground, HSBC, Kraft Foods and B&Q, who worked in round-table groups to hammer out questions to put to the panel.

Carys Matthews

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