retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Between the frosty economic climate and the ridiculously cold weather through much of the country it’s hard to imagine a less exciting time to talk about the environment. Climate change seems like an awfully remote concept when the mercury is hovering at 11 degrees.

But it’s a topic that demands our attention all the same. Because whether you agree or disagree with the arguments about global warming and other environmental issues you certainly believe in addressing issues that impact the bottom line. Therefore, you have no choice but to consider the environment and what you, your company, your associates and your trading partners are going to do about it. Because, if you don’t, you run the risk of problems coming at you from government, your shoppers, your associates and certainly your competition.

To put it simply, if your competitor finds a way to cut costs by making changes related the environmental improvements, you are suddenly at competitive disadvantage. That is why sustainable and profitable go hand in hand and you need a plan to make it work.

An incredibly practical tool to address this issue debuted last week at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference. The Global Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council Forum report, based on a meeting of retailers worldwide, outlines the issues, the challenges and, most importantly, offers a wealth of already implemented ideas from all corners of the globe. The report, available at (click the “global” tab) is well worth the download.

(In the name of transparency, I must admit that I’m not a bystander on this issue. I was a moderator at the global forum in Beijing and I helped present the report at FMI...)

The report breaks down the topic into four pieces. The first consists of comments from global experts on climate change who detail how the changing demographics of the planet—from growing populations to the growing middle class lifestyles around the globe—are further stressing the environment, especially in developing countries that are increasingly the home of the factories for many of our products.

The three other pieces detail the agenda the industry itself may face in reducing carbon use, eliminating waste and securing a sustainable supply of food into the future. And it’s there that even skeptics need to take notice.

In carbon reduction, for instance, you can learn about the steps retailers are taking to reduce their energy footprint from relatively simple measures such as shifting to compact fluorescent bulbs or as complex as designing more environmentally friendly stores and warehouses. And you can get a sense of just how much of the industry’s carbon footprint comes from the production of food to gain an understanding of the importance of working with trading partners on this issue.

In the zero waste section, the old business mantra of doing more with less is laid clear. Companies show how they to address waste in all its forms—from trucks idling in parking lots to the disposal of food wastes in creative and profitable methods. And in the section on sustainable agriculture you can easily see how an industry built on the abundant supply of food has to grapple with the worldwide stress on supplies before products disappear from shelves.

In all three areas the same plan of attack is laid out: start with how to address the issue inside your company by engaging associates at all levels (and many retailers worldwide report this is an effort frequently seized with enthusiasm.) Continue by working with your supply chain to examine all the areas where together you create waste and inefficiency. And conclude by reaching out to your community and your shoppers to both educate and motivate them to make correct choices and understand the changes taking place.

Throughout the report you can hear the retailers around the world voicing their thoughts and concerns and you’ll get a sense of the different perspectives of the developed and developing world. As Al Plamann of Unified Grocers said at FMI, you gain an understanding that the US industry is far from the cutting edge on this issue and needs to get working quickly.

And consider the words of Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute: “While politicians and governments are debating the theoretical costs of getting greener, smart companies are racing to pocket the real profits today.”

Kermit the Frog may have been right when he sang “it’s not easy being green.” But he never had to contemplate the hard price of the alternative. That’s a choice you have to make.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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