Blog: Dean BestAsda stands strong in lion's den

Dean Best | 13 November 2009

For the record, Asda's stood up well at yesterday's (12 November) Soil Association conference in London.

Corporate affairs director Paul Kelly admitted he felt like "Daniel in the lion's den" coming to events on sustainability.

But following a morning in which - on some occasions - big business was held up as the barrier preventing substantive change to the food industry, Kelly was keen to demonstrate how the Wal-Mart unit (and UK supermarkets in general) had sought to take a lead on the issues of climate change and sustainability.

It has been a mixed week for Asda. Yesterday afternoon saw the publication of some robust trading results for the third quarter of the year but, earlier in the week, a consumer lobbying group accused the company of being the "least green" of the UK's major multiples.

In fairness to Asda, the Consumer Focus report had its weaknesses (let's just say a study looking at just nine stores - one each for each of the nine largest food retailers in the UK - in one city is not the most robust investigation) and the retailer has been just as vocal on green issues as its local rivals.

Some could say that Asda is making more strides than others in putting its suppliers to the test on their environmental standards. Its parent Wal-Mart has been very vocal in putting pressure on manufacturers to sharpen up their act and Asda is looking to roll out a version of the US giant's sustainability index in the first quarter of 2010.

And Kelly argued yesterday that, while the media spotlight - and consequent public concern - is on the power of UK supermarkets and the allegations over the poor treatment of suppliers, retailers had made progress on making their businesses more environmentally friendly - and getting consumers to think green.

In contrast, Kelly claimed, the record of some suppliers on the environment was "woeful".

And Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, insisted more pressure needed to be brought on the mainstream agriculture sector, which, he argued, is subject to far less pressure to cut greenhouse gas emissions than other sectors of industry.


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