Andrew Thornton on the Climate Crisis

The Climate Crisis needs your attention NOW!

It is clear that serious action is needed on climate change and that it is needed now. And while Government action is critical, as business leaders I don’t think we can wait any longer for them to take the sort of drastic action that is required. After all, our political leaders seem to be caught up in side (or even diversionary) issues such as Brexit and trying to buy Greenland, with the US branding climate change a ‘niche issue’ at the recent G7 Summit.

That gives us business leaders a choice to make – do we commit ourselves to action now or do we shrug our shoulders and say it needs governments to act first. In Thornton’s Budgens, my supermarket in North London, we undertook an interesting experiment last year – we became the first supermarket in the UK (and only the second in the world) to introduce plastic free zones. We got huge press coverage, inspired other major players to take action and do something – and significantly, our customers rewarded us with an immediate 4% sales increase. Almost a year on, in a grocery market that is flat and with each of the ‘big 4’ supermarkets losing market share (to the discounters), our sales remain 4% up on last year. On one of the biggest issues of our time, our customers rewarded us for taking a clear and bold step in the the right direction – speaking to them, it’s clear they did this as they want businesses to make it easier for them to make the right choices.

What if we turned this approach towards addressing the even more complex and critical issues surrounding climate change, giving our customers solutions that allow them to reduce their carbon footprint? Better still, what if one or more much bigger businesses were to do this? Many of you reading this will probably say that your business is addressing climate change issues and I am sure you are. Yet in my experience, your customers could easily be skeptical – when asked about the plastic pledges made by the big UK supermarkets, the words my customers came up with were “greenwash”, “who cares if everything they sell will be in recyclable packaging by 2025, if only 9% of UK plastic is re-cycled” and “too little, too late”.

When I say take action, I mean a whole-scale re-engineering of your business to recognise that the way we are living today is not sustainable; and that at some point, your business will be unsustainable in its current format. So why not be on the front foot and lead the change like we did on plastic? And both reap the rewards of positive customer response and being ahead of the curve on the long term changes needed.

One of the key transformations at Thornton’s Budgens prior to launching our plastic free zones was our adopting the ‘heart in business’ way of being and the development of our manifesto ( ). We have worked on self-leadership, being more authentic, focusing on being in flow (defined as spending most of our time doing things we are good at and love) and stopping fear getting in the way of making radical changes. Inside all of us humans is the desire to make a difference in society – yet it’s often buried behind fear and the need to conform.

Another smaller business who has taken the ‘heart’ approach is Cotswold Fayre, a speciality food wholesaler. This summer, they became carbon neutral as an organisation – through a mix of re-organisation of their distribution system, introduction of electric vehicles and carbon offsetting.

They too have been aided by the ‘heart’ approach – as their CEO Paul Hargreaves said “The Heart in Business approach has been transformational in developing my Management Team..…..these days it is only authentic, real leaders that will be followed by people who want to see real change happening in the world”. Authentic and real leadership – that’s what we need now to address climate change.

As the bigger contributors to climate change, there are three sectors that need immediate attention – food, energy and transport. If you operate in one of these sectors (or indeed in any business), my question is do you have the courage to stand up and take a stance – to reinvent your business towards one that makes a positive contribution towards climate change by reversing your carbon footprint? Indeed can you afford not to and have the inevitable decline of inaction start on your watch?

Consider a simple example of a business doing this – Greggs’ current success is largely credited with its focus on Vegan options. Simple, effective and without being explicitly about climate change, they are helping their customers to make cost effective ‘better for the planet’ decisions.

I’ll close with comments made by a number of the team at Thornton’s Budgens on the day of our plastic free launch – that it was the proudest day of their working life. With a whole team of people that feel this way, its amazing what you can achieve.

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Andrew Thornton