During an online debate this morning on Unilever’s sustainable living lab (April 25), M&S’ head of sustainable business Mike Barry and Unilever’s global packaging sustainability director Louis Lindenberg said that radical change was needed to drive more sustainable consumption.

“We cannot carry on just trying to shift more and more units of stuff,” said Barry. “We need a totally different approach to consumption.

“In part this will be technology fix, in part business and government agreeing a common approach, but ultimately getting people to think and behave differently about consumption.”

While acknowledging that consumer waste was an “emotive issue”, Barry added that it could be the most important challenge that business – especially consumer brands – needs to face up to.

“Business needs to provide a lead to show consumers that a different approach to consumption can be simple and exciting,” he maintained.

Lindenburg said that Unilever was looking at creative ways of taking back packaging materials for recycling – one example is the work the company is doing with the British Aerosol Manufacturer’s Association to encourage more aerosol collection and recycling among local authorities.

“We are engaged in a multitude of pilots and projects around the globe,” he said. “Players all along the value chain are starting to rethink how they do business and what their impacts are.”

Barry added that the past few decades had been characterised by “business inertia, denial and half-hearted searches for solutions”.

“We have a business as well as a moral imperative to shift the basic model of consumption rather than defend the excesses of the current approach,” he argued.

Maxine Perella

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