Blog: Dean BestSustainability makes a buzz in Munich

Dean Best | 18 June 2008

“In the words of JFK, the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.”

So spoke Gareth Ackerman, chairman of South African retailer Pick ‘n Pay, as he addressed the CIES World Food Business Summit in Munich today (18 June).

Let’s hope the roofs of Munich needed no extra work on a day that has seen some foul, and well quintessentially English, weather in this most German of cities.

In all seriousness, Ackerman, who also doubles up as chairman of the CIES Summit committee, was issuing a word of warning to his food industry audience about the importance for all suppliers and retailers of meeting the issue of sustainability head on – and meeting it now.

Sustainability, that much-talked about but less-understood of issues, is one of the central themes of this year’s summit.

This afternoon, following a morning of sessions dedicated to the retail landscape in Europe, sustainability took centre stage.

Ackerman paved the way for, somewhat bizarrely at first glance, a representative from aviation giant Airbus. However, Andrea Debanné, strategy vice president at Airbus, had a series of insightful messages for the food industry.

The former Coca-Cola Co. executive (she was even wearing red, nice touch) pointed to the aviation industry’s mistakes in dealing with the public’s perception that it is a major contributor to climate change.

Notwithstanding the fact that aviation accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions, Debanné said the industry had become associated with climate change and global warming. The food industry, she said, needed to get working on how it can alleviate its impact on the environment and look to collaborate on the issue. “Don’t wait until you become a target,” she said. “Get your facts straight and lead the dialogue.”

The dialogue in the auditorium then led to an eclectic presentation from Professor Robert Pickard, chairman of UK consumer association, Which?.

In an engaging and humorous half an hour, Pickard took in the Big Bang, Hamlet and honeybees. (I won’t pretend to do it justice here). Using bees as an example, Pickard said government, companies and individuals needed to work together on laying the foundations for effective CSR and sustainability policies.

“Corporate social responsibility is in every individual honey bee body,” Pickard said, adding that humans have lessons to learn from the workings of your average hive.

Sustainability, then, is the buzz-word of the day here in Munich (sorry, it had to be said).


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