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Moving towards a plastic free environment

There can be few issues that have brought sustainability to the public consciousness in 2019 more than the role that packaging and waste plays in pollution of the environment.

Moving towards a plastic free environment

In the final Leeds Business School lecture of the year Ian Schofield, a well-known figure within the retail and packaging world drew on his experience of leadership in business giants such as Sun Branding, the Coop and Iceland to provide insights into the opportunities and challenges that abound.

Ian was the figure behind the ambitious Iceland announcement in 2018 – the pledge to make all of the retailer’s own brand products plastic free. What seems to be a simple and obvious solution to consumers is actually rather complex and counter-intuitive for retailers and packaging manufactures. Most other business have been more cautious about making such brave statements.

The #TooCoolForPlastic campaign saw Iceland raising the bar high for sustainable innovations in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) retail - investigating alternative packaging formats and targeting overall reduction in plastic material use. Not all of Iceland’s eco-ventures worked, the supermarket had to reintroduce plastic packaging for its bananas after its paper replacement failed to live up to expectations.  However, these trial-and-error learnings did not discourage the company, as it continues to pursue new ideas for sustainability.

Despite Ian’s determination and dedication to Iceland’s plastic-free agenda, the company received a large amount of criticism. There were accusations of green-wash and questions raised around lack of objective environmental measures that go beyond materials.

Ian’s lecture to a large audience of students, staff and industry attendees showcased his passion for the topic of climate change, plastic pollution and packaging innovation. It also demonstrated the audience’s interest in this theme with plenty of insightful and challenging questions for Ian.

Whatever your opinion on Iceland’s environmental agenda, Ian and his team created and contributed to a movement that challenged our traditional thinking about products, packaging and retail practices. It contributed to investment in research and innovation for new materials, new designs and supply chain solutions of the future. Ian’s ‘no nonsense’, Yorkshire-style approach shows effective determination and leadership in pursuit of seemingly-impossible but very necessary change.

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Olga Munroe

Olga Munroe is Head of the Retail Institute at Leeds Beckett University, a research centre that specialises in innovation and consumer behaviour in relation to retail.

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