Martin Blumberg is Managing Director for Sustainability Consulting at brands & values. In 2011, he introduced the back then still new topic of sustainability at the EuroShop at the “Sustainovation” special exhibit. Today he tells us in our interview what has happened in retail since then.
Mr. Blumberg, how have CSR and sustainability in retail evolved over the past few years?
CSR has become an inherent part of management in many companies by now. Over the past few years, companies have increasingly developed separate holistic sustainability strategies that help them to face the growing general regulatory requirements and increasing market pressure. In the environment and sustainability field, the focus is on product ecology and CO2 emissions reduction.
What sustainability strategies are most successful?
Many companies have expanded their already existing environmental management at this point. A great many have detached themselves from a focus on energy efficiency and expanded their concepts into a holistically efficient management. To be more precise, they develop and implement measures to handle their resources more efficiently. This includes waste management, recycling and still the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Needless to say, these strategies also pertain to the way in which raw materials are being gained and products are being manufactured. In the food industry for instance, sustainable agriculture and good working conditions during raw materials production are particularly emphasized.
What consequences does unsustainable management bring?
Especially products such as coffee or cocoa that are made under difficult social conditions are increasingly taken on by discerning stakeholders. This can result in business risks for companies, if it becomes public knowledge that they do not show responsible sourcing practices and lack responsibility towards the manufacturing practices in their preliminary products. In the textile industry, this can be shown based on the working conditions in the producing countries and the detrimental factors of industrial chemicals on man and environment.
What incentive has your clientele to consult with you in terms of sustainability?
There are three important reasons. The first one is the increasing political pressure and the tightening legislation. The second driving force is our clientele’s own customers. Food retailing for instance has raised its requirements on the sustainability of brand products. This of course increases the pressure on the industry to produce respective products. Thirdly, there are also consumer organizations and nongovernmental organizations that want to sensitize customers to look for responsible products with corresponding campaigns.
How can we envision the work in sustainability consulting?
We get different inquires from companies. Generally, they pertain to support for developing sustainability strategies. They are meant to help the companies identify critical topics and to find solutions relating to sustainability. The goal is ultimately for companies to always be able to make a sustainable contribution without suffering economic loss. Ultimately, we want to create a win-win situation between economic constraints and sustainable demands.
In addition, we also work on very specific projects with which companies would like to sustainably optimize their products under very clear terms and conditions. Then there are companies that need a better CSR system to make data processing and with it, sustainability reporting more efficient.
What CSR aspects are most significant in retail?
Generally, retail is at the end of the chain and thus in the public eye of scandals every time. To avoid this, retail’s demands for product safety and as a result also for product transparency in the industry has changed. Today, retailers need a guarantee that the end products were made responsibly and risk-free under ecological, legal and social conditions. In addition, retail expects a universal, holistically compelling sustainability concept.
At the EuroShop, brands & values has overseen the “Sustainovation“ special exhibit. How big was the interest of the industry sector at the time in sustainability?
In 2011, the topic was still relatively new and unknown. Back then however, the pressure by politics and consumers was not there yet. At this point, companies from the fields of architecture, shopfitting and exhibition stand construction increasingly receive orders where they are asked to implement shopfitting concepts that are not just pretty to look at, but that also meet in-house sustainability requirements. This development is now slowly beginning. There are already several big brands such as REWE, Puma and Nivea, who also design their stores, that is to say the choice of materials and energy strategies of stores, by considering sustainability aspects. In doing so, the ecological commitment of a brand can also be experienced by the customer in the store.
Does sustainable management create additional costs or increase sales?
A sustainable strategy pays off in two ways for companies. On the one hand, potential risks from legislation and politics relating to company compliance are being averted early on. On the other hand, sustainably managed companies stay competitive, especially in the B2B sector. Requests for bids in the building and construction sector also more and more include sustainability requirements, without which interested companies are not even able to compete.
I am personally rather skeptical whether sustainable management is a sales driver in the traditional sense. It is more of a tool for companies to stay competitive and to meet the sustainability demands of an increasing number of customers at the product level.
The interview was conducted by Elisabeth Henning; EuroShop.de