The contract we need to help households achieve greater sustainability

A new report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that households should play an important role in the battle against global warming by eating less meat and using fewer toiletries. But can the FMCG and retail sectors help drive this change or can they only respond to changing consumer and shopper demands?

Each year, plastic packaging waste generation in the UK amounts to approximately 2.2 million metric tons – an average of 20.42 kilograms of plastic packaging was collected per household in the UK in 2019. Deloitte’s recently reported that avoiding single-use plastics is the most common way consumers demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, with 61% saying they had cut back. A focus on seasonality (49%) and buying local goods (45%) were the next biggest areas of focus. Ethical and sustainability issues remain a key driver for almost a third of consumers, who claim to have stopped purchasing certain brands due to related concerns.

It feels like for many people the responsibility for sustainability has always lay with someone else, perhaps global corporations or governments. Consumers have been permitted to exercise ‘free will’ when it comes to the environment, though increasingly we are taking individual responsibility for our own roles in protecting the planet through small changes: eating a bit less meat; choosing sustainable energy sources; switching off lights, using fewer plastic bags.

Retailers have been similarly constructive in their response. Tesco implemented a plan to cut plastic waste in 2019, since when it claims it has taken a billion pieces of plastic from its UK business and will reduce another half a billion this year. Similarly, Sainsbury’s has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2040, with a focus on helping shoppers enjoy food that is healthier and more environmentally friendly.

But even this may not be enough. The problem is too deep set now, too profound to be ignored even by the naysayers. We are now less than a month away from the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and now, the responsibility lies with us all: government, retailers, suppliers, and consumers.

We need to form a contract within which we all play different roles: governments for policy, targets and investment; retailers to educate and enforce and to work with suppliers who will innovate across the entire value and supply chain, and consumers to buy sustainably. We can no longer afford a chink in the armour. Retailers, suppliers and consumers need to work as one.