TR Sustainability Week 2023 live sessions kicked off on Tuesday* (5 September) with keynote addresses from Heidi Solba, Founder, President and Head of the Global Network, Let’s Do It World and World Cleanup Day, and Arnaud Rolland, Vice President CSR at Lagardère Travel Retail.
Both stressed the importance of collaboration when tackling sustainability issues (watch the full video interview below).
The packed agenda got under way with an address from Michael Barrett, TRBusiness Head of Events and Corporate Social Responsibility, who was joined by Luke Barras-Hill, TRBusiness Editorial Director.
Back for a third year, the event brings together travel retail stakeholders to explore solutions, share ideas and challenge each other for environmental and social progress.
This year’s programme opened with a focus on World Cleanup Day, which takes place on 16 September.
The global campaign was founded in 2018. Since then it’s grown a network that spans over 190 countries and engaged over 15 million people.
‘Why can’t we work for the earth?’
“‘It’s possible to create a worldwide movement and make change in this world,” founder Solba said.
Throughout her presentation she stressed the importance of positive collaboration to drive improvements. Her message is to strive for a waste-free world as far as possible.
A key part of this, she said, is to educate people on what waste is, and that we’re living in a world with a huge volume of it.
“We want to engage the crucial mass of the people because it’s creating societal shift – and we need societal shift.”
From her perspective, this looks like bringing together NGOs, the public and private sectors across cultures, borders and backgrounds.
This year, she continued, World Cleanup Day is part of the UN calendar for the first time. “It means more impact in the world.”
After sharing how regions experiencing conflict continued to engage in the initiative, she shared that her aim was to engage with 5% of the world’s population. “If going to the moon is possible, why can’t we work for the earth?
Solba then shared data on the extent of the global waste issue. We hit World Overshoot Day – when we consumed more than the earth can regenerate in a year – on 2 August 2023. We’ve collectively been “in debt” since 1971, she added.
“Man has turned this paradise – [as it’s been] for billions of years – into a garbage dump.”
Over 3.5 billion people don’t have access to waste management systems, Solba said. She also drew attention to the microplastics crisis. According to the University of Newcastle study, we consume the equivalent of a credit card a week, on average.
Cigarette butts – the “most-found waste in this world” at 4.5 trillion units – contain microplastics. Most consumers do not know this.
Barrett asked if Solba would consider partnering with any tobacco producers to tackle the issue. “We are definitely looking for mass-mobilation,” she replied.
“There is a lot of things that any corporate organisation can do,” she added. Consumption is increasing, populations are growing. “We have to be more bold with innovations.”
‘We cannot work in silos’
She also shared that 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year. Are governments doing enough to show leadership on this issue, Barras-Hill questioned.
“We have great practices in many countries,” Solba responded, citing Estonia’s work on building a circular economy. 91% of plastic, aluminium can and glass waste stays in the system. She said that it showed governments really can engage communities, businesses and retail through legislation.
“Governments can do a lot, but we cannot work in silos,” she stressed. “We have to work with the big corporations.” She mentioned the role of taxation and other metrics.
Solba also added that more work was needed on a scientific level to “understand digital waste” – for example, forgotten-about files in the Cloud consuming energy.
She also stressed the work of World Cleanup Day in engaging schools to start climate education at a young age.
Next to speak with Arnaud Rolland, Vice-President CSR at Lagardère Travel Retail. He has spent 15 years of his career working on sustainability issues, and joined Lagardère Travel Retail from Coca-Cola earlier this year.
“The retail landscape is very rich with lots of things to do, he opened.
He opened by sharing that he felt cleanups were a great way to raise awareness of the global waste problem. Not only does Lagardère take part in these types of activities as a team-building exercise, they also engage customers, too. “It makes sense because we are all part of the solution,” he said.
He mentioned a volunteer programme for employees. “It’s very important to go to the ground and see the real problem, the real life,” he stressed. “Some people say, ‘sustainability is too far from me’,” he continued. “It’s really important for people to see the reality.”
Lagardère Travel Retail PEPS targets
Rolland then delved into Lagardère Travel Retail’s sustainability roadmap: Planet, Ethics, People, Social (PEPS).
Targets include carbon neutrality by the end of 2023 (said to be the most ambitious in the industry), with net-zero operations “ahead” of 2050.
Countries may have individual timescales for implementation within those goals, he said, but they all follow the strategy.
A key focus within PEPS is to offer an alternative to single-use plastics for water inside every store by the end of 2024.
“It can be a fountain, it can be another packaging, but we find it’s very important to provide the choice to consumers to reduce the plastic footprint of our operation,” he stated.
He also acknowledged that tough sustainability targets can create internal challenges within a business.
“It can raise some conflict where we talk about the buying team, finding alternatives,” he said. “They may in some cases be more expensive.”
The answer, he stressed, was to have an honest review. Financial savings can often be found elsewhere, for example in energy reduction.
“In an ideal world, finding an alternative to plastic should not cost more, but it’s fair to say it’s not always the case,” Rolland said. “We need to be clever.”
Ultimately though, decisions have to be built within the organisation. “Once a decision is taken with leadership, everyone is aligned,” he stated. Engaging stakeholders across geographic markets is important, too. “We build the solutions together.”
One such solution is eco-Aelia, the retailer’s Geneva International Airport store which opened in early 2022. Furniture and POS materials were created with up to 40% less carbon emissions.
Carbon neutrality across the group, he continued, will be achieved through energy reduction, even down to store level.
“There is absolutely no question [whether] to do it or not,” he stressed. “It is the right way to go forward.”
Scope 3 challenges
The future challenge, Rolland continued, is to align all stakeholders in the upstream supply chain to reduce Scope 3 emissions. At present, these account for more than 80% of the retailer’s footprint. “That’s the next frontier,” he said.
“We need to now tackle the product level. We need to do it.” But it is hugely challenging. “We cannot do that alone.”
He continued: “We depend on the supplier, the very big supplier, middle supplier, small supplier. We need to work more with them to find together the right solution to lower the carbon of the products in the coming years.”
From 2025, the EU is mandating that all companies operating within the area must calculate indirect Scope 3 emissions. “It’s kind of a revolution,” he said “It’ll bring more transparency.”
Another positive gain will be to bring more transparency to operations, he added.
When asked if Lagardère Travel Retail is incentivising product suppliers on sustainability, Rolland said he aimed to “engage all the value chain.”
Discussions are ongoing with “big brands” who are “very concerned about their own carbon reduction strategy,” he said.
Data sharing – a familiar issue for most in travel retail – is a major challenge. “If you want to plot a carbon trajectory, you need the right data to do it.”
While he has some detail from generic sources, “it’s better to have the primary data coming directly from our suppliers”.
“We need to do it on a fact-based approach, and to use the right data, otherwise we will stay in the estimation of everything, and it’s not really relevant for the future.”
Greenwashing and greenhushing
Greenwashing has long been in the common sustainability parlance – but greenhushing could be just as damaging, Rolland detailed.
While brands over-hyping sustainable gains is a problem, especially when communicating to consumers, so too is the practice of not discussing a company’s positive practices.
“We need to find the best way between the two. We cannot say nothing because many actors, many brands, many products are already committed and doing real efforts. We need to highlight those as a retailer.” He added: “It is the consumer expectation.”
Critical is engaging his own staff, and also admitting where mistakes are made. With transparency comes more of an ability to experiment, especially when speaking to consumers.
In closing remarks, Solba agreed that consumer education was critical, as is all stakeholders communicating more transparently. “I do agree that showing best practices accelerates innovation.”
Rolland concluded: “Going further means collaborating more.”
About TR Sustainability Week: 4-8 September 2023
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*This is an updated version of an article first published on 5 September.
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