TR Sustainability Week: To legislate or not to legislate?

By Kristiane Sherry |

TR Sustainability week sustainability legislation discussion

The final panel of the week saw a team of thought leaders discuss sustainability legislation and packaging.

In the final live session of TR Sustainability Week, four thought leaders gave their take on sustainability in travel retail today – with the merits, or otherwise, of sustainability legislation a hot topic. 

The closing live session of TR Sustainability Week 2023 saw three thought leaders come together to discuss some of the most urgent topics in the field, including packaging, the role of legislation, and the need for holistic approaches. All sessions are available to watch on-demand.

Stéphane Detaille, Global Sustainability Manager Confectionery & Ice Cream SBU at Nestlé, opened with a discussion about engaging women in cocoa communities and reducing the collective reliance on the crop. 

He was joined by Sophia Kavgalakis, Head of Strategy & Business Development at Common Seas, David Mills, Sustainaholics Founder, and Tracy Ross, AerRianta Middle East’s Projects & Design Manager, Sustainability Champion & LEED Green Associate.

Detaille shared how in 2022 Nestlé launched its Income Accelerator Programme, which works with 10,000 households in Côte d’Ivoire. 

“We still see some systemic issues, one being poverty,” he explained. “Poverty is impacting not only on the communities themselves, but also deforestation and many other impacts of climate climate issues. 

“The idea was to try and come up with a new way of tackling these issues. And looking at not only the farmer, but the family, and by looking at the family, definitely enhancing the role of a woman in the community and the household.”

As such, through a mobile banking initiative, women received payments as well as the men who typically work on the cocoa farms. 

“There is a financial incentive that is given directly in the hands of the farming families,” he detailed.  “Half to the spouse, half to the farmer.” Work is also underway to build out other forms of earning. “Because the solution in the cocoa industry cannot come from cocoa owning, it has to come by diversifying the sources of income.”

He added: “I think there’s still a lot to do. We have to continue, we have to be humble first.” He maintained it was important to hold a sense of leadership. 

TR Sustainability Week: Legislate for change

AerRianta’s Ross then gave her assessment. Key themes of the week have been collaboration, honestly, transparency and communication, she said. 

She also echoed earlier comments around greenhushing. “There is a fear that we’re not getting everything right. I think as we’ve seen in all the sectors, it is so challenging, it is so complex, there is so much research and development that’s needed in all sectors.” Companies need to be more comfortable with not being 100% right. 

“There is the importance of honest, open communication,” she continued. “And I think our consumers will appreciate honesty.”

Ross also called for greater collaboration between “the GTR trilogy”. Repeating her comments from her panel discussion a day earlier, she stressed it was “so important” for airports to set clear sustainability goals. “Those filter down to the concessionaires down to our suppliers and starting right at the tender stage, tender all the way down to contracts. And it’s all the way from the terminal building right down to the product and the packaging.”

Another big shift she hopes to see is the move from linear to a circular economy. She gave the example of moving away from PET single-use plastic water bottles. 

“There are solutions out there,” she stressed. “It’s as simple as installing hydro stations, refillable bottles.” She acknowledged it was a “sensitive subject”. “I talk from a retail perspective because it impacts the bottom line. But there are other solutions out there.”

For her, a legislative approach is the answer. “I think legislation is going to enforce it. If it’s written in at the tender stage, if the airports take a firm stance and say, ‘look, we don’t want to see plastic in our airports going forward, or we’ll work with you for a two-year period as you phase it out’. These are the alternative solutions. I do believe that legislation is going to force change.”

Sustainaholics Alumini miniature solutions

Sustainaholics’ Mills stepped forward to challenge the price sentiment. “It is a conversation I have 10 times a day, with increasing degrees of frustration and bewilderment,” he said. “And [cost] is just totally the wrong measure. If you measure things on cost, you will always get the same decisions.”

He advocates instead for more leadership over a regulatory approach.”I don’t think legislation does anything. It’s all about leadership. It’s about empowering teams to make decisions based on value. Because sustainability is almost a curse as a word now.”

Mills gave the example of “premium” products. “They exhibit almost identical characteristics in terms of quality ingredients, provenance, and artists. No one comes through and says, ‘why do premium products cost more?’ Everyone comes to you and says, ‘why does sustainable products cost more?’”

Common Seas’ Kavgalakis agreed, citing data from the tourism industry. “Hotels, through surveys, found that 80% of guests are willing to pay more for sustainable properties. And they’re willing to pay like 20 to 30% more if a property is sustainable. So this luxury is associated usually with the product.”

‘Rethink’ packaging

Detaille then raised the topic of totally rethinking a product’s packaging to become more sustainable. “You can make huge cost savings,” he stressed, adding that this work goes far beyond simply swapping out materials.  

Mills agreed, pointing to his recently launched Alumini refillable and recyclable solution for spirits miniatures. “It’s rethinking it not only from a sustainability perspective, but from an efficiency basis,” he stressed, detailing that the Aluminis were specifically designed to fit better in trolley drawers. “You can actually earn more money out of it.”

He implored: “Sustainability no longer needs to feel like some sort of charity case.”

Kavgalakis then took time to detail Common Seas Plastick digital platform which helps companies track, measure and assess their plastic footprint. From this, they can take more meaningful action and report accurately. 

“It was developed in collaboration with businesses for businesses starting in the tourism and hospitality sectors,” she explained. “Because of the transient nature of our customers, we believe the aviation industry, airport retailers are also one of the largest users of single use plastics.”

Recalling the earlier conversation around regulation, she said Plastick would be helpful with incoming EU rules. 

“We do believe that legislation is important,” Kavgalakis said. “I agree that it should not be the only driver. But we’ve seen that usually that helps businesses to take the next step when they know for example, that they will have to file annual sustainability reports within the next year.”

It is an effective tool for “companies who want to go deeper and want to look much deeper into their plastic use and into what exactly are the plastic components used in every product.”

In the round of closing remarks, Mills drew the session by imploring urgency from across the industry and beyond.

“ August has officially breached the 1.5-degree threshold from pre-industrial temperatures,” he said. “It hasn’t met the technical definitions to tip in 1.5-degrees, but it’s happened. Therefore we can’t really afford to sit and wait around for 6, 7, 8 years for for for the big guys to change.” That change must happen now. 

All TR Sustainability Week coverage can be found online.

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