Welcome to  my February update of salient sustainability stories to inform and stimulate thought. If you have any subject you would like me to cover just let me know.

Best wishes,


February 2019 Update

3 easy to digest bite-sized sustainability stories & thinking:

  1. Iceland gets a frosty reception for its lack of transparency- what can we learn?
  2. When is a sustainability target not a target?
  3. Do you have a Plastics Roadmap?

Iceland gets a frosty reaction for lack of transparency

April 2018 saw the UK grocery retailer, Iceland, making a bold public declaration on palm oil. It declared a ban on palm oil in its own products and committed to removing existing palm oil in 100% of its own products by the end of 2018. The issue in question is that demand for palm oil is devastating the rainforests in Asia as they are converted to palm oil plantations. So, Iceland made a bold move and a laudable one and as a result, received quite a bit of positive PR.

Unfortunately, things began to unravel for Iceland recently when the BBC reported that Iceland failed to meet the deadline for 17 of its products. Rather than come clean and put up their hands to say that they hadn’t quite met the target, they instead simply took the word ‘Iceland’ off the products in question. Same products one word change. So, Iceland met their targets but really only by the 'letter' and not the 'spirit'. Arguably, Iceland has reversed any positives it gained from a reputational perspective in the first place.
As a result, Iceland has been criticised about the lack of transparency and this has had an adverse effect on the trust in the Iceland brand.

So, what are the learnings for us?

  1. Be clear about the nature of your commitments.
    Are they ambitions or hard and fast deadlines? This will determine how an organisation manages potential failure. For more on this see the accompanying article “When is a sustainability target not a target?“. If it is considered a drop-dead target like Iceland’s, then radical action is required rather than fudging the issues. In Iceland’s case, they could have decided to delist those 17 products until they could remove the palm oil. Instead, they wanted to have ‘their cake and eat it’.
  2. Transparency is king.
    Regardless of performance to target, an organisation should be transparent and honest in both actions and communications.

Most people and NGO’s are surprisingly forgiving if you ‘fess up’ to the truth rather than trying to cover it up. Often confessing to failure will be reputational enhancing if approached in the right way.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

When is a sustainability target not a target?

Target setting and the role of KPI's comes up in many conversations I have with organisations. There are different ways of approaching them depending on a number of factors, not least the culture of the company or organisation. Broadly there are two approaches.

1. Set targets that are achievable (and by definition more conservative).

Pros: The roadmap or route to achieve them is more certain and even known.

Cons: This may mean that the targets don't 'feel' very motivating to external stakeholders or to employees and are certainly not BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals). On the flip side there is perhaps more internal pressure to achieve them because they will be treated more like conventional financial targets.

2. Set ambitious targets or BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals).

Pros: Potentially highly motivating for employees and other stakeholders. Because there are big targets the organisation may deliver more compared to a conservative one and with more step change or innovative ideas.

Cons: Acceptance of missing the targets may be too easy and in some organisations, this may mean a lack of pace. 

Both approaches are sensible. Personally, I am in favour of the second one. With the emergence of climate change Science Based Targets (SBTs) it is also becoming more common. With SBTs the target is essentially set by the need to achieve the limit to the global temperature rise irrespective of whether the route is known to get to the target at the current time.

Whatever approach you take remember that transparency is king in communicating your progress.

Photo by felipe lopez on Unsplash

Do you have a Plastics Roadmap?

One thing that has stood out for me in 2018 was the massively increased profile of the sustainability issues around plastics.

We have David Attenborough thank for raising the issue of ocean plastic in his Blue Planet television series. The challenge was for all of us '“We may think we live a long way from the oceans, but we don’t. What we actually do here, and in the middle of Asia and wherever, has a direct effect on the oceans – and what the oceans do then reflects back on us.”

This led to some individual commitments from some companies and government on things like banning plastic straws. One of the more significant initiatives in the UK, in my opinion, was the launch of the UK Plastics Pact by WRAP and supported by Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

They have invited companies to sign up to achieve a series of ambitious targets by 2025:

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models.
  • 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  • 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  • 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

No matter what sort of business you are in (B2C or B2B),  the issue is large in the minds of both consumers and also business customers. My advice to clients is, therefore, to be proactive and have a plan - whether you use a lot of plastic in your packaging or products to just a little. Start by analysing your portfolio and identifying vulnerabilities and opportunities against the plastic pact goals.

Remember that change is not required overnight. A good 3-5 year plastics roadmap will mean you are making progress and protecting yourself from adverse PR and contributing to solving the issues of ocean plastic. Whether you decide to sign or not to sign up, the Plastics Pact gives a useful and relevant agenda to follow.

More information on the plastics Pact can be found here, or if you would like a discussion on how to create a plastics roadmaps please let me know.

Happy to help.

I would be delighted to use my practical business experience to help address your sustainability challenges, whether it lies in:

  • Strategy
  • Marketing
  • Execution
Just drop me an email or learn more.
Copyright © 2019 David Brunt Consulting Ltd, All rights reserved.

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