It is barely three months until the second Sustainable Retail Summit and, with last year’s event in Paris as a guide, this will be a lively and inspiring couple of days. I chaired the event last year and am thrilled they have asked me back as the quality of speakers and level of interaction with the audience was so high.
The meeting got off to a flying start with a real coup: the bosses of Britain's rival supermarkets, Mike Coupe from Sainsbury’s and Dave Lewis from Tesco, on stage together for the first time. We enjoyed a sparky 'fireside chat' about food waste ending on a cheery snapshot with the commercial foes, with arms on each other’s shoulders and giving a big thumbs up to camera! There were plenty of other business leaders there but it wasn't all about the big beasts. We also had passionate presentations and discussions on forced labour from those on the frontline, innovative ideas on healthy shopping from a supermarket chain in Turkey and very funky band of food waste fighting students from France.
I learn't a lot and came away encouraged by the potential and ambition of business to 'do the right thing'.
My tribe - journalists - are frequently suspicious of corporate behaviour. The instinct is correct: reporters should interrogate power and companies are powerful, profit-driven entities. But, nor should we ignore the moments when business does the right thing for the environment, for population health or fair trade and employment. The reality is companies can have a very large impact, from the decision of a small board, but, also in how publicity spawns further similar actions.
Of course, many firms can now see global sustainability and profit push in the same direction. I was very struck by the corporate reaction to the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Anger from some that he still doesn't 'get it' but more generally a sort of shrug of indifference reflecting, the now widespread certainty, that the future economy will be low carbon. The renewable energy train has left the station and is picking up speed as business joins it and drives it. Donald Trump’s words are a light headwind.
This year's SRS is in Montreal (just the place is exciting enough for me) and the team from The Consumer Goods Forum are pulling together another cracking roster of speakers from top level CEOs, sustainable retail entrepreneurs and even someone who can tell us how Michelle Obama likes her eggs. See you there!
This post was written and contributed by:
Freelance Broadcaster & Journalist