In conversation with Richard Walker – taking positive action on environmental and social issues

Last week, FHF, alongside Omnicom’s One Hundred Agency, hosted the MD of Iceland Foods, Richard Walker, to discuss taking positive action on environmental and social issues. The conversation focused on the imperative for ethical and sustainable business.

Here are three things that we learned from the discussion:

  1. You have to take customers and employees with you on the journey

Implementing changes to the business by taking action on environmental and social issues must have the support of employees and customers. Employees need to buy in to the vision so they maintain a sense of purpose and pride in the work they do and so they ultimately become ambassadors for the business.

For customers, it’s about ‘democratising environmentalism’. Environmentalism has often been accused of being an exclusively middle-class activity, but the key to progress will be making sure everyone cares about, and is able to take action on, these issues, regardless of how much they spend on their weekly shop.

  1. The pros and cons of going viral

When Iceland’s “Rang-tan” TV advert was banned last Christmas, it went viral, putting Iceland and the topic of palm oil at the centre of the news agenda for several weeks. This helped create a broader platform for a national debate on how companies and specifically retailers could meet the environmental challenge through action.

Messaging on subjects like palm oil needs to be nuanced – pro sustainable palm oil and anti-deforestation. There is a risk that the sheer volume of media coverage and social conversation mean elements of this messaging can get lost when something goes viral.

  1. Taking a stand can have a real, positive business effect

There is hesitance in some board rooms to publicly discuss their business’ environmental credentials for fear of being criticised – a phenomenon now being called ‘greenhushing’.

There was consensus that businesses taking a stand on issues can be genuine and positive, and foment real change by starting new conversations with government and consumers. And critically, by shining a light on important issues like palm oil, it can create a domino effect of public and governmental scrutiny that leads to sustainable change.

Ben Walters, Corporate Communications