The European Sting at the Retail Forum for Sustainability live from Barcelona

Mr Antii Ilmari Peltomaki, Deputy Director-General of the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Directorate General of the European Commission opening the Retail Forum for Sustainability on 21 May in Barcelona (European Sting)

Mr Antii Ilmari Peltomaki, Deputy Director-General of the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Directorate General of the European Commission opening the Retail Forum for Sustainability on 21 May in Barcelona (European Sting)

As part of the 18th European Eco-Innovation Forum on 20-22 May, the Retail Forum for Sustainability took place on 21 May in Barcelona and had a prominent place in the dialogue for a Greener European environment. The Forum came as a necessary module of the Eco-Innovation dialogue organised by the European Commission, DG Environment. The role of the European retailer in Eco-Innovation and Eco-Labeling is certainly crucial and the voice of the market was necessary to be heard.

The European Sting was the only Brussels Based EU Media that travelled to Barcelona to cover the Retail Forum for Sustainability and shed light on the European retailers’ active work for a better environment.

The comprehensive agenda of the Forum allowed for a stimulating discussion based on perhaps the most important asset, facts and truths from the market. The sector was represented by several prominent players like IKEA and Metro Group, together with the Spanish retailers of Mercadona and Consum. The Spanish presence excessively prevailed in this debate, where more balanced representation from pan-European retailers would be awaited. In any case, the quality of the input from the retailers’ side, although often given in Spanish language, was high enough.

The first session of the Retail Forum for Sustainability was titled: “Closing the Loop, How Retailers engage with suppliers and employees seeking to make circular economy a business case”. Some important points were raised during this first session of the Forum. Retailers stressed during their speeches the progress that has been made first in limiting the waste. It is true that the Spanish retailers have succeeded a major reduction of plastic bags in Spain. Further, we were informed about the way some retailers have incorporated circular economy principles inside their value chain, using parts of its existing packaging to recycle.

A stimulating thought was then brought to the table by Fabio Iraldo, Professor of Bocconi University in Italy. “Retailers should go beyond business as usual”, Mr Iraldo provoked the retailers attending the panel. The Professor said pointing towards the retailers “You have to involve/inform the consumer”. By that he basically meant that apart from internal corporate recycling patterns and sustainable practices that the retailers are adopting, they should also not omit to play the crucial role to educate consumers about Green sustainable products, practices and eco-labelling.

This inevitably created a fruitful debate, where some retailers argued that it is not their role to educate the consumer. However they all agreed that they look forward to the new “EU Package on circular economy”. It is very important in the EU that recycling mentality further expands, making all kinds of waste a resource and not just rubbish. It is a pure necessity in the EU to abandon land fills once and for all. What is more, the panel would aspire a reduced VAT for recycled products. The Professor said: “we paid VAT once it was a product, why do we have to pay again?”.

What was very interesting to listen to during the Retail Forum for Sustainability at the end of May in Barcelona was the voice of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). The Brussels-based organisation was represented in the Forum by Angeliki Malizou. Mrs Malizou interestingly pointed that not in all EU Member states the information on Eco-Labelling of products is well received by the European consumers.

Moreover, she argued that the point is not only to draw the attention via marketing campaigns towards the “Green sensitive” consumers. Instead, for Mrs Malizou there is a lot to be done to sensitise the European consumers who are not today “Green” enough. Further, she claimed that the product labels don’t educate the consumer; the consumer needs to come educated before she goes to the Point of Sale.

Finally BEUC, the ambassador of the interests of the European consumer, questioned by the panelist whether eco-labelling should be mandatory in the EU, she answered negatively. Currently, she argued, there is no targeted legislation available but a practices directive in the EU. She admitted that there is a lot to be done in this direction from the EU.

All in all, the Retail Forum produced some positive takeaways to the visitor regarding the current Green practices of the European retailers on Eco-Labeling and also the urgent need for the European consumers to be further educated as regards the eco-labelling of the products found on the shelves and circular economy as well.

The Forum was so well thought of that it would be really great to have more sessions and more retailers on stage from all over Europe together with some bigger representation of the European consumer. The Retail Forum for Sustainability is certainly an excellent platform to invest on the interchange of insights between the markets and the consumer.

At the end of the day some very concise and effective ideas and plans should be put forward regarding the EU consumer’s Green education accompanied by retailers’ best practices.

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