Responsible consumption: where does retail's responsibility lie?

Sustainable development

Historically, this responsibility has been particularly concentrated on own-brand products. These are positioned as the flagbearers of brand values (exclusion of controversial ingredients, products with added social or environmental value, use of eco-labels, long-term relations with the supplier SMEs, etc.). The food market, the decisive environmental impact of which the world has only recently discovered, is naturally at the core of these concerns:

  • The development of life cycle analyses reveals the importance of the upstream agricultural impact (water consumption; carbon footprint, in particular of livestock; etc.) and of certain conservation practices (freezing, packaging, etc.).
  • The public authorities are taking an interest in the matter (formalisation of national sustainable food policies in the UK and Scandinavia, creation in France of a Ministry of Food).
  • Mass retail, in particular, plays a major role in food consumption.

More broadly, the mass retailers have for some years assumed a role of international leadership with regard to sustainable development strategies. For example, Marks & Spencer, committed since 2007 to a remarkable Plan A (“since there is no plan B to save the planet”) built around five topics and 100 objectives aimed at radically transforming its activities by 2012, reinforced this strategy in 2010. The British store chain, which had already planned in 2007 to stock its shelves systematically with free-range eggs, fish from certified fish farms and fair-trade coffee, tea and cotton, has this time announced that half of its products will be ecological or ethical in 2015, rising to 100% in 2020. For Marks & Spencer, the stated objective is no less to become the most “sustainable” store chain in the world, by fully integrating sustainable development into its strategy for running its business (the new slogan for plan A is: “How we do business”). The brand itself presents its approach as a clean break with the traditional CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) approach which aims above all to limit the negative impact of business activities rather than making these a source of opportunities, exploited systematically in every dimension of the business. This global and unique transformation plan, aimed at comprehensively aligning the way the business is run with the principles of sustainable development, is today a model serving as an example worldwide, in other sectors.

Elisabeth Laville, founder-director of the Utopies agency



Sustainable development partner for SIAL 2012: the Utopies agency supports SIAL with the topics of sustainable development both in the preparation of the SIAL TV broadcasts and in the specific approach of SIAL to the topic of sustainable developement.

Throughout SIAL, Utopies will be on hand to answer questions about sustainable development in the experts village, situated in hall 6.