Like many fledgling initiatives, sustainability in the retail industry has evolved in a somewhat erratic pattern. Projects emerge around the world in fits and starts. Some experiments move quickly from early adoption to mainstream use, while others seem to stall. It's hard to get a big-picture view of where sustainability stands.
A new report from The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils worldwide is notable both for its geographic reach and retailer inclusion. Called “Sustainability in Retailing,” it presents more than 70 case studies involving companies ranging from supermarkets to mass merchandisers. They include Wal-Mart, Ukrop's, H-E-B, Publix, Food Lion, Giant Eagle, Stop & Shop, Supervalu, Asda, Tesco, Carrefour and others.
The report can be downloaded by visiting www.ccrrc.org  and choosing the “global” tab. The findings, which also relate to a sustainability forum held in China last year, became the focus of a panel at the recent Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando, Fla. In that session, John Gummer, the U.K.'s former secretary of state for the environment and currently a consultant, underscored the point that sustainability isn't just about doing the right thing, but also about becoming more profitable through cost-effectiveness.
The CCRRC's new report focuses on three critical areas of sustainability: reducing waste, reducing carbon and developing sustainable agriculture. For each topic it explores areas of opportunity, current retailer activity, how to engage key stakeholders and case studies.
Sustainable agriculture is particularly interesting, because until recently it didn't seem central to the retail mission. “Retailers have the ability to reach back into the agriculture side to give credit to folks behaving sustainably and promote sales of these ecologically responsible products,” said Bill Bishop, chairman of Willard Bishop. He is facilitator for the North America CCRRC and was a core team member on this project.
The CCRRC's case studies on sustainable agriculture include those involving giant retailers, but also smaller ones, such as Ball's Hen House Market, which operates a successful local agriculture program. That effort includes a farm-to-school healthier lunch program called Bistro Kids, which offers educational materials that teach students about local foods.
In the report's section on carbon reduction, Kroger is cited for a program that increases energy efficiency by installing ECMs, or electronically commutated motors, in frozen food cases, service cases, prep rooms and other equipment. These reduce electricity use and lead to cost savings.
There are lots of other case studies with plenty of good reasons to practice sustainability.
And there are also reasons less frequently discussed, but just as gratifying.
“If you want to be a hero at home with your teenager, do something about the environment,” said Denis Knoops, senior vice president, Business and Concept Development and New Business Opportunities, Delhaize Group, one of the panel members in the recent FMI session on sustainability.
Now there's a reason that really hits home.