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The ecological transition in retail and its challenges
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The ecological transition in retail and its challenges

At the last networking event of the Confédération Luxembourgeoise du Commerce (CLC), a large number of professionals attended a round table discussion on the theme: The ecological transition in the retail sector: the challenges of a winning recipe. This is a hot topic and having had the opportunity to attend the event, here is a report. 

 

A balanced panel and structured topics

To begin with, it should be mentioned that the panel was well selected and that the participants are actors with their respective roles to play at the center of the debate: Claude TurpingManaging Director of ValorluxJoëlle WelfringMinister for the Environment, Climate and Sustainable DevelopmentCédric GonnetCountry Director Delhaize Luxembourg and Vice President FLAD; and finally, Georges EischenManaging Partner La Provençale and President FLAD.

The debate lasted a little over an hour and covered various points, including recycling, food waste, resource management, and of course the package of laws adopted last June by the Luxembourg government in accordance with European directives.

 

The main points

It is difficult to summarize such a vast subject in a few lines. However, I am going to share with you some of the essential lessons to be learned from this evening debate: 

  • Retailers have already been making efforts for several years, and are aware that much more needs to be done in terms of environmental impact. However, they emphasize that all efforts will be in vain if the different actors in the chain do not work together. Suppliers, retailers, authorities and consumers must each fulfil their respective roles by collaborating and coordinating initiatives. 
  • Consumer awareness remains key. The consumer drives demand, and is also the one who can improve certain everyday actions that are not yet perfected today. For example, studies show that almost half of the waste thrown away in the black bins in Luxembourg (residual waste), should in fact find its way into recycling channels. Sorting can therefore be improved. The same goes for food waste, or the use of plastic bags, the consumer can do better. 
  • Making laws to improve everyone's behavior seems to be the necessary way to change behavior. However, it is essential that authorities consult with retailers to seek their views and consider the practicalities. Some of the laws adopted last June by the authorities are necessary and not questioned in any way by the retail sector. On the other hand, some have been imposed without consultation and the practical implementation is questionable. The best example is the obligation to create recycling centers in supermarkets. Having collection points for waste for recycling is a good thing. However, bringing waste to a point of sale where hygiene is paramount to ensure the safety of the food chain is risky. Having food items and waste crossing path at the same point should be avoided at all costs. Also, remember that all supermarkets are different. Some have a car park, some don't, there are shops with one owner of the shop and another owner for the building. Each situation will have to be dealt with differently and the implementation of the law is going to be complicated. However, the retail industry seems to want to be proactive. Pilot projects will be set up and evaluated quickly in order to put in place a system that will hold up and achieve the objectives and above all respect the deadlines imposed by the new law. 
  • Concerning the ban on single-use plastics: here again, consultation and analysis will be needed to put everything in place. Not all situations are the same and according to FLAD officials, companies in the restaurant industry seem to be ready, with the exception of some fast-food companies. 
  • Plastic remains a necessary evil in some cases. As Mr Gonnet pointed out, the reduction of plastic use in the fruit and vegetable section of supermarkets is something that retailers have studied in depth. On a fruit and vegetable shelf, for example, only 15-20% of products are still affected, and for some products plastic is still the best solution. Take grapes or radishes, for example. If these products are packaged in anything other than plastic, breakage and waste increase considerably.

 

My 20/CENT

First of all, I would like to point out that the debate took place in a very open and constructive manner. None of the actors fell into dogma and even if some divergent or contradictory points of view could be pointed out, the parties involved seemed more than open to debate and in agreement on the substance. There is a need to create a more sustainable resource and waste management policy, but in practice there is still work to be done and discussions to be held on implementation. 

And this is logical! Any policy or measure aimed at improving recycling, avoiding waste or reducing waste, must be coherent and the result of consultation between the different actors. 

And then there is one actor who is in fact in charge of the whole thing and who must above all make an effort: the consumer. The consumer must be made aware and sensitized. Even if the consumer has the right to demand that supermarkets invest more in sustainability, the right to ask that more ecological alternatives be favored and selected by buyers, it is still the consumer who has the obligation to inform himself and act accordingly. If sorting is not done properly in households, if purchases are not made in a more responsible way, it would be too easy to simply point the finger at the authorities and the supermarkets as solely responsible. 

Clearly, the lesson to be learned is that everyone, be it authorities, retailers, suppliers or consumers, must take responsibility and do what is right for the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clc LuxembourgSustainabilityDurabilitéTransition écologiqueRetailLuxembourg