The first-ever hybrid Sustainability conference event had everyone buzzing
As if the chance to get up close to The Wombles wasn’t a good enough reason alone to spend the day at the National Geographical Society yesterday, 18 October, attendees of the first-ever physical and digital Products Of Change Sustainability Conference (SiLC) were treated to a jam-packed agenda of incredible talks and panel discussions that informed, inspired and entertained.
“We promised to bring expertise into the industry so that we can learn new skills and advance our knowledge forward, to enable us to transition how we operate, and enable business and our communities to operate without having a negative effect on the planet and our future generations,” said Helena Mansell-Stopher, ceo and founder of Products Of Change, which owns and organises SiLC, in her welcome.
“With you here today, wanting to learn more, just reaffirms that you are leaders. That you want to be part of this monumental shift in how we operate. And that you are proud to be a part of this, for our future generations.”
The day-long event, which was also streamed live for digital ticket holders logging in from all over the world, saw keynote presentations from top professionals from Tesco, Primark, Asda, Walgreens Boots Alliance, The Insights Family, Mattel, Lego, revered author Alan Moore, Retail Economics’ ceo Richard Lim and visionary entrepreneur Mart Drake-Knight, founder of Teemill.
“In this room we have enough power to really make a difference,” stressed Paul Earnshaw, Tesco’s senior packaging manager, as part of his incredibly engaging presentation which left no one in any doubt that glitter is definitely a no no for greeting cards and other products being stocked by the major grocer.
And he shared Tesco’s RAG guidelines which places different packaging materials and formats under Red (not to be used), Amber (if a better alternative is not possible) and Green (preferred for UK recycling), there in the Red column was glitter while foiled paper sat under the Amber heading.
However, Paul did give reassurance that glossy greeting cards are still considered OK in the Tesco camp, showing paper/board with one-sided lamination, with an asterisk highlighting that this is easily separated in the recycling scheme.
To bring the customers along on the journey, transparency and looking at the whole supply chain were just some of the topics discussed by a panel of retail experts at the conference.
Chaired by Helena, she was joined by Tanya Ashton, head of sustainability at Walgreens Boots Alliance; Sarah Hawkins, manager at Primark Cares; Harris McQueen, global licensing manager (adults) at Primark; Richard Lim, ceo at Retail Economics; Jade Snart, senior sustainability business manager at Asda; and Helen Scobie, product development expert at George@Asda.
Asked about some of the biggest challenges when it comes to Asda’s sustainability journey, Jade explained: “With the ongoing headwinds and the change in the economy, it’s sometimes the case that sustainability becomes a nice to have. But it is absolutely a must when it comes to our business. So, keeping pushing our strategy forward in recent times has been a challenge, as well as when it comes to data and transparency. How do we really get behind the system and establish valuable change?”
Talking about how they can keep prices affordable but also deliver on what they’re saying, Primark’s Sarah commented: “We’ve made the commitment that sustainable fashion is accessible for all, but let’s start thinking about it like any other business transformation project. Stop putting sustainability in an ethereal magical box and start thinking about it as a business programme and the efficiencies that you can find.
“Also, what’s the cost of not acting? What does that mean for customers, and from an industry perspective? But it is imperative and it is built into our business now; it just has to happen. We’re bringing sustainability to life in a way that does work for us.
“And if we can do it with Primark prices, then the industry can move along with us. The Gen Z shopper is calling for this and we have to respond.”
Looking at the whole supply chain was also raised, with Richard citing latest research which found 70% of retailers that Retail Economics spoke to are doing something now, with the other 30% looking at doing something in the future.
For Sarah, Jade and WBA’s Tanya, the question is how the whole supply chain – including the end user – can be supported to go on the sustainable journey with them.
“You’re relying on the next person in the chain to play their part, too,” said Jade. “That’s the complexity we’re facing. But if we’re all asking for it, then we’ll get there but there is a way to go.”
As to what consumers can do to help sustainability at retail, Sarah had a pretty simple response: “Vote with your wallet, essentially. This makes a real difference. Also, join in when it comes to the legislation. Use your voice and use your wallets.”
The next Products Of Change SiLC conference has been slated for 8 November, 2023, again at London’s Royal Geographical Society.
Among POC’s 500-plus members are Danilo, Hallmark, Glick, Out Of The Blue/Into The Green Publishing, Cath Tate Cards, Belly Button Designs, Carousel Calendars, Talking Tables, This Is Iris, The Bright Agency, and Amscan. To find out more head to www.productsofchange.com
Top: The Wombles were on hand to welcome delegates to SiLC 2022