Written by: Janice Rudkowski
I had the opportunity to attend Canadian Grocer's Commitment to Sustainability conference held at the International Centre in Mississauga on September 20, 2012. The conference brought together diverse stakeholders from the food and consumer packaged goods industries, including impressive representation from private, public and non-profit sectors across retail, consumer packaged goods, media, market research, energy, supply chain, distribution, packaging and academic industries.
Sustainability is a hot topic, and given the numbers in the room, all facets from the retail industry appear to have a vested interest in it. The conference itself was only a few hours long, even though the topic itself could be debated for days. There were myriad ideas to explore, but debate was clearly absent from this conference.
Even though there were competing companies present (Unilever vs. Nestle and Sobey’s vs. Loblaw for example), rivalries were set aside for the morning so that thoughtful discussion on the topics of water as it pertains to the grocery industry, the “Green Consumer” and the business impact of sustainability could ensue. The goal towards sustainability in business practices, it appears, is something that we can all agree on.
Industry leaders, who have traditionally spent most of their time developing defensive strategies for market dominance, are now collaborating to strategize how to make sustainable business practices (that affect supply chain, distribution, packaging and channel selection). This is not an easy thing to do when you have different companies as well as differing goals, operations and leaders.
Bob Chant, SVP Corporate Affairs and Communication at Loblaw Companies offered a recent example of industry collaboration focused on sustainability. He summarized that a few years ago, clam shell packages that housed ready-made salads were not on the acceptable list for recycling. Ironically, the plastic could actually be recycled, but because retailers were each using such different types of plastic it became impossible to sort the plastic so that they could be recycled. So, the giants in the food retail industry got together and agreed that they would all use the same type of plastic in their clam shell packaging. Because of this consolidation of thought, process and decision-making clam shell packaging is now recyclable in Canada. This is an example of a small, but significant step forward and more importantly an example of putting aside rivalry in exchange for collaboration that has a positive effect on our environment.
Canadian Grocer is also taking sustainability quite seriously. They've recently collaborated with Unilever and launched their magazine as an ipad app. You can download the Canadian Grocer August issue “The Big Green” for free here.