James Bielby

Bielby column: Green thinking is the future

FWD’s James Bielby says environmental movements could throw up considerations for wholesalers to weigh up

Never let it be said that a small group of dedicated and enthusiastic people can’t change the world. Real change comes from mass movements, but the journey starts with small steps. 

As we’ve seen with the Extinction Rebellion protests in recent weeks, things are really heating up in the debate over the action needed to tackle climate change. It’s a campaign that focuses on simple messages, galvanises a grassroots movement and uses invasive but persuasive tactics to get public, media and government attention.

Political parties are particularly alert to popular policies as they prepare manifestos for an election – and on climate change, the only question is what level of mandated change is coming and when. They need to respond to people becoming more aware of the impending environmental catastrophe and changing their behaviour as a result.

Take meat, for example, with one in eight British people saying they’re now vegetarian or vegan, and a further 21% claiming to be flexitarian, only eating meat occasionally.

Environmental concerns also mean consumer- and media-led choices on packaging are picked up by government and rolled back down to manufacturers and retailers. 

The rate of change can be swift: single-use plastic bags are close to extinction and offering plastic straws in a foodservice outlet is becoming a reason not to visit it. These tiny measures in themselves won’t change much, but the common view is that we all have a responsibility to do our bit.

Waste is high on the agenda too, with WRAP introducing a new industry campaign in May, backed by FWD, to tackle the nearly £3 billion worth of food that’s wasted each year across the hospitality and foodservice sector, of which WRAP believes 75% could be eaten.

Therefore, we should expect every aspect of the production, sourcing, distribution and wastage of food and its packaging to come under scrutiny. 

The process is already under way on packaging, with the Defra consultations into extended producer responsibility, deposit return schemes for plastic and aluminium containers (and perhaps glass, which is in Scottish plans) and a tax on plastic packaging.

It’s the Producer Responsibility reform that should concern us most. Alongside proposals to lower the level businesses must pay for the packaging they place on the market, which we support, there could also be a new wholesaler obligation for those products that only pass through distribution as part of the supply chain process. 

The last time this issue arose in 2013, we successfully maintained the exemption and will seek to do so again.

Distribution is also under intense scrutiny, with London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) now in operation and clean-air initiatives in other major cities suggesting more no-go zones for older vehicles are soon to follow in the coming years.

Many of our members have contributed to our responses to consultations, helping us form strong positions on these issues. Their input has been crucial as businesses step up to the plate to work to mitigate the imminent environmental catastrophe which threatens our children’s futures.

Chief Executive Defra Extinction Rebellion FWD FWD column James Bielby WRAP