Sustainable retail leaders hit out at supermarkets wrapping veggies in plastic

Sustainable retail leaders, including Nike’s former environmental consultant, have criticised supermarkets wrapping vegetables in plastic.

Speaking on a panel about ethical retailing at Mumbrella’s Retail Marketing Summit, moderator Adam Donnelly, chief strategy officer at RXP, asked why supermarkets are still using plastic wrapping on vegetables when they know it isn’t environmentally friendly.

The panel (L-R): Julie Mathers, Flora & Fauna founder; John Elliott, former MD of TOMS Australia and New Zealand and former environmental consultant at Nike; Jacquie Fegent-McGeachie, former global director – CSR and sustainability, Kimberly-Clark and current board director at the Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia; and Pippa Kulmar, co-director of retail consultancy, Retail Oasis

“This is the thing that drives me bananas. Pun intended,” Donnelly said. “Why? Why do businesses, on one hand, have this level of sophistication and understanding of these principles, and still … use a piece of superfluous plastic around a cucumber?”

John Elliott, former Nike environmental consultant and former MD of TOMS Australia and New Zealand, told the crowd companies need to do better at connecting a great product with a broader purpose and, importantly, communicating that.

“If you have a pristine looking product and a non-pristine looking one, and no communication, it’s natural that you go for the one that looks nicest,” Elliott said about why customers choose plastic-wrapped vegetables.

“I don’t like the word sustainability, I think that pigeon holes us all.

“What we’re trying to do is run smart businesses … I’m excited that the opportunity for business[es] to truly make a difference is better now than it’s ever been.”

Elliott told the crowd that sustainability is simply “smart” business

Pippa Kulmar, co-director of Retail Oasis, also said that being sustainable doesn’t just look good, but helps the bottom line, pointing to logistical decisions such as sending trucks on quicker routes or buying cheaper petrol.

“As we see more and more cases of that type of success, it’s so easy to then adopt, because it has commercial backing.”

While the panel was adamant that companies need to do more, Elliott also urged those in the room to take on the challenge individually if their companies weren’t responsive.

“Either change your job, or change it internally. It’s up to you,” he said.

“If you think other people are going to fix the problem, you’re going to be really disappointed.”


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