HEAD TO HEAD WITH CHARLES MIERS, CO-CEO OF FOOTPRINT
How was the idea for Footprint conceived?
Footprint was conceived to answer a demand from industry leaders to get to grips with the sustainability debate. In those days sustainability was very much the elephant in the board room; an afterthought reserved for the very last page of a corporate report under the rather opaque acronym ‘CSR'. We set out to create media, insights and events that would facilitate sustainability progress. Our objective was to enable the biggest names in the industry - and their respective supply chains - to make informed sustainability decisions, to shift culture, maximise supply chain efficiencies and to mitigate impacts. To this day we remain the only voice of whole-supply-chain-responsibility issues in all channels of the foodservice, out of home and hospitality sectors. We still work with the largest businesses in the industry and remain true to the mantra that it is in the board rooms of these organisations that sound environmental and social decisions will continue to have enormously positive impacts.
Footprint launched in 2007 - how has the sustainability agenda evolved over the last decade?
The issues remain the same – finite resource, diminishing in the face of an expanding population; food and water scarcity, energy, pollution and climate remain key pillars. An agenda around social sustainability with issues such as the living wage, gender, diversity, pay gaps, health and nutrition is gaining huge momentum. Foodservice is a vast industry touching billions of lives globally every single day. Collectively the sector has a responsibility of which many organisations operating in it are acutely aware. Over the last decade corporate sustainability performance has changed beyond recognition; something we’re very proud to have been a catalyst of. The debate and narrative are now much more mature but solving the colossal issues we face is not a quick fix. The added complexity is that goal posts keep shifting. We start tackling one issue and a new one emerges. The enormous impact a TV show such as Blue Planet can have is manifest to the importance of a cohesive industry sustainability narrative. It showed that the foodservice industry was, in pockets, able to react but it also displayed how exposed and accountable the sector is. What 10 years ago, by some, may have been perceived as wishy-washy, is today considered to be a necessary business principle. What, even 5 years ago, was regarded as foresighted innovation is today regarded as the bare minimum. This won’t stop. Those that don’t accept it, or remain cynical, will be left behind!
Who’s doing it well? Either operator or supplier side?
There are fabulous examples in all channels of the sector, both from operators and their respective supply and value chains; be that farmer, grower, producer, manufacturer or distributor. Footprint Awards, now nearly in its 10th year, is always such a great barometer of annual progress. But businesses have to remain agile, not drop the ball on current initiatives and be ready to tackle new emerging challenges, no matter how complex. The sustainability agenda is not going away. It is here to stay.
We were lucky enough to attend the Foodservice Equipment Steering Group Panel last week, what are your plans for the future of the initiative?
The equipment sector has been vocal about the sustainability agenda for a decade. Because it can be perceived to be an ‘unsexy' area of the market, it is often hard for progressive manufacturers, distributors and consultants to make their sustainability case to operators. Endeavour for the equipment community to be heard has often resulted in it being an internal industry conversation rather than an emotive topic such as food waste or animal welfare. The Foodservice Equipment Steering Group aims to disrupt that status quo. The Steering Group is a symposium of engaged individuals, comprised of manufacturers, distributors, consultants and operators. The group will break down competitive barriers, create a common narrative and voice. Most importantly it will be the catalyst of initiatives that will advance and progress the equipment community’s sustainability ambitions.
Finally, advice for businesses looking to implement better sustainability standards?
First, listen to your people. In every business there is a sustainability champion; the one individual who really cares and who wants to make a difference. These are the people who can generate real change. Give your champions a platform. Empower them. I can think of countless examples of employees who have recognised the opportunity of getting themselves noticed through sustainability endeavour, whilst making a huge difference commercially and reputationally. A number of these individuals have become very senior in their respective organisations off the back of their wins and successes. Second, it’s never too soon to start your sustainability journey, if you don’t, one day it might be too late. That’s the reality.