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Has sustainability finally come of age? What is it exactly?

In this article, we look at what the UK Government and the EU have in mind. We look at some of the steps Britain’s top grocery firms are initiating, and we assess what impact this will have on the shopping basket and the way we shop.

There is a new Board Director in a town called the Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Director, or the (CRS Director). Judging by the amount of EU legislation surrounding this appointment, this post carries with it a great deal of corporate success and expectation. A quick Google tells me that this is not just a flash in the pan appointment, to be morphed into the human resource portfolio, like health and safety or the E-commerce Director who is now found in IT or Marketing. This appointment is core to the direction of any customer-driven business.

Sustainability is here to stay. Integral to this strategy is the belief that shoppers choice can be driven by sustainability. Even in these austere times, people still want to buy ‘green’. We are becoming more antagonistic towards wasteful packaging on the shop floor. We don’t want to wrestle with ‘dog food multipacks’, shrink wrapped to resemble the prizing open of old drain covers, or shopping bags that, whilst biodegradable, split at the first gust of wind.

Shoppers are also noticing that the vans that deliver our food add to our shopping baskets’ carbon footprint. Locally grown alternatives are replacing lemons from Israel in the winter. Kiwifruit from Malawi sees a decline as we look for British substitutes.

This environmental movement is becoming more mainstream as Britain tunes into recycling.  Our behaviour change is being driven by necessity. Central Government is incentivising councils to prolong landfill sites, and the EU is putting demands on the UK consumer to change buying behaviour.

Consumer companies are now looking at ways to reduce the climate change impact on all product ranges without reducing margin, quality or market share. ‘Green’ packaging solutions is at the core of this belief. With over 20 EU policies impacting corporate performance, is it any wonder that manufacturers and retailers alike are looking to lead the ‘green’ race.

According to the EU, “To use the traditional definition, sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

With the signing of the Lisbon treaty in 2007, the UK agreed to put sustainability at the heart of economic, social and environmental life. In simple terms, whatever we use, must be reused for the benefit of future generations. Leaving behind depleted earth will not sustain life in the future. The move away from fossil fuels and high carbon content goods and services is galvanising UK business today. UK Plc is being incentivised to change the way we live.

We can make several hypothetical leaps to determine where we live tomorrow and how we will live to increase or decrease the carbon debt accordingly. Over the next 10 years, houses will be built that do not include cars, where public transport will be seen as the panacea for carbon offset. There is a strongly held belief by planners that we will buy our groceries and durable foods online; thus, new housing estates will not need shops or petrol stations but houses and green spaces. The planners also believe that the distribution chain employed by companies today will change for the better, reducing the number of lorries required for supermarket delivery.

For years companies have been sending employees home to work and with the introduction of ‘broadband for all’ across the UK this trend is only set to increase. Whilst the consumer continues to target ‘purchasing’, the supplier will continue to target the ‘shopper.’

The growth in online marketing has had a detrimental impact on individual productivity. With diversions such as Facebook and Twitter, we have become a nation of multi-taskers. The generation entering the workplace today have grown up on celebrity and ‘Big Brother’ with the need for immediate gratification (apparently the motivation for everything that we do). But I would disagree with the Mail and the Express, who appear to have a vendetta against social media. I believe that Facebook has its place, as does Twitter for the time being, and like AOL and Lycos, they will all die the natural death of tired online brands.

Twitter is great ‘google bait’, and Facebook is a fantastic community tool. But here is a question when was the last time you spoke to anyone who bought anything because it was on Twitter, Hootsuite or Facebook. No, me neither… but I can tell you of all the clubs and societies that only exist because of Facebook and Twitter, and that brings communities together.

But these are not business tools that will revolutionise the world. They are not economically sustainable. So, where is the next Google coming from?

Who knows, but as soon as it arrives, we will be looking for the next ‘big thing’. And the next ‘big thing’ is here to stay; it’s call sustainability. Or, to put it another way, it’s the opportunity for the high street to come back into fashion again.


Megabrands will revert to the wholesale model online to supply the staples we need, whilst the premium based retailer will move closer to the shopper who is home-based and shops locally or online. The next big thing is our leisure time.

It’s the 24/7 culture of location independence that sustainability will develop, and this is why the CRS Director is key to the success of business today. In 20 years, we will be living our lives in a very different way from the way we do today. To succeed, the CRS Director has to be focussed on behavioural economics that builds a choice architecture around the business strategy of tomorrows suppliers.

Now is a great time to develop online, outdoor and social media campaigns to clarify consumer demand and buying behaviour. Target marketing has never been cheaper than it is today. So use it for tomorrow.

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