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Environment & ethics   |   Employee ownership   |   Plastic

Packaging; an apology for drifting

As we prepare for employee ownership I’m writing an ethos statement to be included in the documentation. “Only dead fish go with the flow” made it in there and seems to embody our independent spirit. However staff pointed out that going with the flow can conserve energy for more important battles, that it can be soothing to drift along with others, and sometimes everyone else is right. On reflection the principle should be knowing when to drift, and when to swim.

In 2007 we did some swimming. A collaboration with Exeter University informed an environmental policy which challenged many popular, intuitive views of the time. We abandoned our tentative move towards biofuels, stopped using biodegradable plastic bags, stopped using UK heated glass houses and argued that plastic often has a lower carbon footprint than paper. Plastic marine pollution was not a widely recognised issue at the time; our assumption was that climate change was the main challenge facing our planet.

Through recessions, an IT crisis, and the collapse and recovery of the organic market, we’ve swum in other areas but drifted on packaging. In our defence, we encouraged you to return packaging for us to sort, reuse or recycle, but the problem is that we’ve drifted into using too much packaging in the first place. There’s always a reason: reducing wilting and waste, separating allergens,
maintaining temperature requirements, carrying vital labels, and occasionally, because it makes our lives and systems easier. But we’ve drifted too far and need to challenge those pressures. That should have come from me but I am ashamed to say it has come from feedback from you, our customers.

Please be assured that we have woken up; all packaging is being critically challenged. We have already moved from plastic to biodegradable nets made from wood and you will see other changes in coming weeks. We’re not going to jump into degradable plastics, or from plastic to paper, without investing in substantial research first. So this is an apology for not living up to the expectations we’ve courted and a promise that we’ve heard you and will change as quickly as we can. While we may be way ahead of most retailers in this area, we have drifted too long.