Hannah Gallimore, corporate responsibility manager at Central England Co-operative, tells us how eco-friendly retailing is the way of the future and how it helps Central England a more responsible business. CEC recently attained all four Carbon Trust standards and became a signatory of the Courtauld 2025 agreement to commit to reducing food waste by 20% by 2025.
- What does sustainable retailing look like?
Generally speaking retailers would agree that being 100% sustainable is a real challenge, but through environmentally considered designs, specifications and local suppliers, impacts can be dramatically reduced. Improvements in mechanical and electrical equipment and the standardisation of sustainable technology such as solar PV ground source and air-to-air heat pumps have all contributed to significant reductions in our business’s footprint. But there is a balance between sustainable retailing and providing acceptable customer service. We constantly explore this and challenge ourselves through new retailing concepts such as food retail stores which use 0% packaging (trialled in Europe and USA). Sustainable retailing requires consideration for all environmental impacts. Though the boundaries of sustainability can be pushed too far, negatively changing the retail experience for the customer. The public now accepts the 5p per carrier bag charge – but could we ask them buy cornflakes loose, or dig up their own potatoes?
The definition of a ‘great’ business has changed. Not only is this viewed by size, turnover, profitability, but now we include ‘green’
- Why do sustainability and energy efficiency matter to co-ops and other businesses?
Improving a business’s energy efficiency is typically a good financial investment, providing operational savings through electricity, gas and water bills.
To go further than these ‘easy’ wins involves more financial risk, a longer strategy and a true desire to be a sustainable business. While there are no set rules on how performance will be viewed by the public, the harder wins gain significant reputational benefits. The definition of a ‘great’ business has changed. Not only is this viewed by size, turnover, profitability, but now we include ‘green’. This is becoming more important to the public.
Many of the investments and improvements we have made are customer-facing, such as glass doors to chiller cabinets and LED lighting. While this provides an opportunity to engage directly with the public, there is always the concern that a change to the usual shopping experience could be off-putting to our customers. When the first trials on chiller doors were conducted, we informed and engaged customers to gauge their feedback. Across the food retail sector, chiller doors have been standardised over five years. This time period was driven by retailers expecting customers would see doors as a barrier. During any roll-out of new technology, we need to inform the customer through targeted messaging.
- How do you work with suppliers to push for higher standards?
By 2018 we aim to work with our top 250 suppliers and help to improve their sustainability, through supply conferences, workshops and targeted one-to-one engagement.
This is embedded into our procurement strategy and tendering processes to ensure we recognise and appreciate commitments to sustainability. This has led to more local supply contracts and equipment sourced and manufactured in the UK.
- What about future challenges?
Challenges become opportunities. Challenges set by government or planning conditions, setting requirements for environmental and sustainability targets, drive the requirement for new technology and investment, which enables us to get closer to our goals.
We are heavily reliant on new technologies and efficiencies. This provides the same challenges to our retail competitors and, while we may utilise different methods to improve our environmental impact, the customer experience will typically change and evolve at the same time.
Our current environmental targets plan an absolute 35% carbon reduction by 2018 along with specific targets for water
use, increased local suppliers and investing back into our local communities. But this is just a start; we are constantly reviewing new technologies and processes to find ways to reduce our impact.
We have focused on reduction rather than generation, which has seen energy reduction of 24% on average. This continues with trials in new technology, increased levels of energy monitoring and automation of control systems.