Blog: Dean BestSustainability is sexy

Dean Best | 19 June 2008

Sustainability is sexy.
 
No, you read that correctly. The message from here in Munich is that sustainability is sexy.
 
According, that is, to Mark Price, the managing director of UK retailer Waitrose.
 
Price – the self-styled “Chubby Grocer” – took his turn to chew the fat over the issue dominating the CIES World Food Business Summit this week.
 
This morning, Price outlined Waitrose’s work on sustainability and, by and large, it was clear to see that the retailer has made some genuine strides on issues like supporting farmers and local sourcing.
 
Sure, Price had an interest in standing up and walking us through the Waitrose sustainability message but credit should go to the company for the progress it has made.
 
However, there are a couple of key differences in the way Waitrose works as a company that determines its commitment to sustainability.
 
Firstly, the company’s ownership structure – it is, in effect, owned by its workers – enables the retailer to take a longer-term view than, perhaps, its publicly-listed rivals.
 
Secondly, much of Waitrose’s work on sustainability has been driven by what it shoppers want. And, generally, a shopper at Waitrose has deeper pockets, is more affluent and is more “switched-on” to green issues than the average shopper on a UK High Street.
 
The fact that shoppers at Waitrose are more willing to pay higher prices helps the retailer invest in its sustainability agenda.
 
Elsewhere, though, the outlook is more uncertain.
 
As concern over the UK economy mounts, and as consumers tighten their belts, how easy will it be for other retailers to fund the up-front costs needed to pursue a more sustainable business?
 
And how pertinent are those issues now to a more cash-strapped shopper?


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