Retailers failing to invest significantly to make their business more sustainable in the face of climate change are taking a big gamble, Ocado chairman Sir Stuart Rose has warned.

Consumers want retailers in all sectors, be it food or t-shirts, to help tackle the challenges posed by climate change on their behalf, Rose told delegates at the British Retail Consortium’s annual symposium yesterday (25 June).

“I think people care about sustainability, about climate change,” said Rose, who’s time at Marks and Spencer saw him pioneer the retailer’s Plan A sustainability strategy – so-called because, the company said, “there is no ‘plan B'”.

“Some people will always believe that the world is flat. Well, the world isn’t flat, and it’s getting hotter,” Rose, now chairman of online food retailer Ocado, told delegates.

“We are going to have a perfect storm in 2030. We will need 30% more water, 30% more energy and 30% more food. It’s a gamble if you don’t do anything about that now.”

A child born today could easily live for 100 years, and they will have to deal with the consequences of inaction, he said.

He added there are also clear financial and competitive advantages to making a business more sustainable.

“When I was at M&S and we started Plan A, we asked customers what they thought. Ten percent of people said ‘we don’t want to know’, but a lot of people were saying ‘we do get this, tell us more’.

While, initially, shoppers also told M&S they were not keen to pay more for sustainably-sourced food, Rose countered the retailer has since saved money via the strategy. Independent auditing shows Plan A has begun to directly contribute to M&S profits, largely by reducing energy bills for the retailer.