EuroCommerce and the European Retail Roundtable, which represent the European retail sector, are launching a Retail Forum and "counter proposal" to the EU executive's Communication on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP).
A Retailers' Environmental Action Plan (REAP) sees individual forum members agree to take forward the SCP Action Plan by voluntarily reducing the environmental footprint of the retail sector and its supply chain, promoting more sustainable products and better communicating to consumers.
A specific REAP "matrix of environmental action points" has been designed to help individual companies to identify environmental measures that can be taken regarding what and how they sell, as well as helping them to communicate such actions to consumers.
EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva welcomed the initiative, arguing that "retailers are in a unique position" to help consumers make sustainable choices and buy green. "Product information must be clear, and sustainable products must not be a luxury," she added.
Retailers underlined how commerce is driven by competition and consumer demand, which, according to EuroCommerce Secretary General Xavier Durieu, "particularly involves sustainability". Pierre-Olivier Beckers, president and CEO of the Delhaize group, said retailers are increasingly focusing on sustainability "not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because our customers and our stakeholders demand it. There is no alternative".
European consumers' organisation BEUC and the European Environmental Bureau both welcomed the establishment of the forum, as they agree that retailers have a strong influence on production and consumption patterns. But they deplored the voluntary nature of the forum, as "voluntary agreements do not have a history of effective performance at European level". Should the forum fail to deliver, BEUC "expects the Commission to move up a gear and take stricter measures" to make the retail sector greener.
REAP is expected to complement another initiative unveiled last week by major food industry stakeholders: the Food SCP Roundtable. The roundtable, set be launched formally in April 2009, "will constitute a major sector-specific reference point for the upcoming Retail Forum," said Feargal Quinn, president of EuroCommerce.
The priorities of the European Food SCP Roundtable include finding an agreement on uniform and scientifically reliable environmental assessment methodologies for food products, examining key sustainability challenges facing the food value chain (such as climate change, water, resource efficiency and waste reduction) and developing adequate strategies to address these.
"European consumers increasingly want to be sure that the food they buy and consume is not only safe, healthy, nutritious and affordable, but that it also meets the highest levels of environmental sustainability," said Jean Martin, president of the Confederation of EU Food and Drink Industries (CIAA).
Both initiatives (the Food SCP Roundtable and REAP) are expected to pool expertise in order to favour consistency and avoid duplication while reducing the environmental impact of the food and retail sectors, promote more sustainable products, and better inform consumers about 'green' purchasing opportunities.