Sainsbury’s waste achievements ‘hard to rate’, say peers

Sustainability leaders have found it hard to judge just how well Sainsbury's is delivering on its own waste goals, according to the findings of a recent crowdsourcing exercise.

Earlier this month, the retailer invited over 150 CSR experts to peer review its 20 by 20 Sustainability Plan in a bid to refine its corporate sustainability agenda going forward.

Waste is one of the central themes of the plan and the crowd were asked to rate the retailer’s efforts in this field on a number of areas including progress against targets, packaging goals, supply chain collaboration and consumer engagement.

The outcomes showed that while Sainsbury’s was identified as the leader in waste, ahead of Marks & Spencer and P&G, it was only from a pool of 20 nominations – the lowest number of nominations for each of the 10 areas of the 20 by 20 plan that delegates were asked to measure.

The vast majority recognised Sainsbury’s waste strategy as being ‘in line’ or ‘marginally ahead’ of the competition – both ratings receiving 65% of votes in total, illustrating a degree of uncertainty in the crowd on just how well the retailer is performing.

“Interestingly the crowd seemed less confident in judging Sainsbury’s waste strategy than in other areas … one can conclude that the crowd finds waste a difficult area to rate,” the retailer pointed out, in summing up its findings.

Molson Coors Brewing Company’s global sustainability manager Julia Denham was among those participating in the audit. Her feedback was that the retailer’s waste strategy “doesn’t have any clear aims on reducing total supply chain waste, only in reducing packaging.”

This view was shared by the crowd, with many believing Sainsbury’s needs to pressurise its supply chain more to improve waste reduction.

One way this could be achieved is by encouraging more suppliers signing up to the Courtauld agreement, which is facilitated by WRAP – recent findings from phase 2 of Courtauld concluded that retailers are not yet realising the full benefits of waste prevention.

On packaging, the crowd felt that Sainsbury’s could also drive better improvements throughout its supply chain by standardising secondary and tertiary packaging/reward innovation.

One delegate, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the retailer’s targets to reduce own product packaging by 50% by 2020 from a 2005 baseline “seem too unambitious”.

The company must also do more on consumer engagement by stimulating behaviour change and taking a more aggressive stance on post-consumer food waste through better portion control and demand management.

“Excellent on the food waste – now how do they tackle consumers wasting so much food?” was another comment. Some felt that customer perceptions could be challenged through radical redesigns in packaging.

Overall, the crowd felt there was a real opportunity for Sainsbury’s to forge stronger alliances with both customers and suppliers to drive more innovative practice in waste prevention.

Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King admitted he had never heard of the term ‘crowdsourcing’ before this initiative, but felt it important that the company laid bare its strategy for comment and critique.

“We were happy to be the first to open our minds to the possibility and give it a go. I’m confident that by continuing to listen we will better deliver our 2020 commitments,” he said.

The crowdsourcing event was hosted by Green Mondays in London.

Maxine Perella

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