Article 13 criteria for selection:
Hilary Thompson, Social Responsibility Manager for B&Q, presented at the joint Article 13/Defra stakeholder event on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP).
Turnover: £3.9 billion (2004)
Core Service: Home improvement retailer
Employees: Over 36,000 people in around 320 UK stores
Vision: Parent company Kingfishers’ aim is “to be the world’s best international home improvement retailer” [company website, 2004]
B&Q is a home improvement retailer, selling through large warehouses and smaller superstores. It states that its social responsibility programme is designed “to reflect our purpose and values, by being a 'better neighbour' to, and by improving the quality of life of all the people our business touches. That includes the people who work for us, the people making our products, their families, the people living near our stores, our customers and even our investors. It is our belief that by understanding and managing our social, economic and environmental impacts, we will become a stronger, more efficient business whose stores are welcomed in communities across the world.”
The production side:
B&Q’s approach to SCP largely focuses on the environmental and social impacts of its products. The company has taken a proactive approach to issues such as timber (which accounts for 22% of B&Q’s annual turnover). For example, through a partnership approach with WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature), B&Q became a founding member of the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC sets principles for good forestry management, and certifies forests against those criteria. This has been seen as a powerful tool, not only giving customers reassurance, but also producing an effective method for supply chain visibility.
Hilary Thompson, Social Responsibility Manager at B&Q, presenting at the Article 13 event for Defra on sustainable consumption and production, outlined the opportunities for B&Q:
Create a sustainable inventory at low cost
Obtain competitive edge
Deliver stakeholder expectations
Continue to grow a sustainable business
Where possible the company looks at the “lifecycle” of a product to assess its “sustainability”, i.e.: from the raw materials that are used to make a product, the manufacturing processes used, the packaging and transportation of the product to its actual use and finally how it is disposed of.
One policy that B&Q has stuck by, and which raised questions during the stakeholder event, was about not boycotting goods which had questionable sustainability credentials. One participant asked:
What is the evidence that staying with a product to influence the market is more effective than boycotting?
Hilary’s response reflected B&Q’s approach: “We stay with tropical hardwood for our garden furniture because we believe through working with Tropical Forest Trust we are actually helping to improve forests in Asia. Many companies are boycotting Indonesian wood, but how does that help the Indonesian forester? We have also been asked to drop paint stripper containing dichloromethane. But by offering the alternatives, which are DMN free we are switching customers at the point of sale. Better to be ‘at the party ‘influencing than outside…”
The consumption side:
Often the focus of companies can be on the production side, but Hilary Thompson also gave some interesting perspectives on key issues around sustainable consumption.
Question from the floor: “What can you do about products that customers don’t want, to get them to want them?
Hilary: You have to first offer a better alternative, then help them understand why they should buy it. But B&Q can’t do this alone.”
Question from the floor: “You can have a big influence on customers’ attitudes, so why don’t you tell them more about environmental issues?
Hilary: We are trying – we did a lot this season in store regarding sustainable timber, but it is worth noting that when we asked customers where they wanted us to talk about environmental and ethical issues they said ‘on product’. They do not want us to use billboards or general ads; they want to see anything like this close to the point of purchase, to assist them with their buying decision.”
Question from the floor: “Does B&Q think that sustainable consumption is about buying more stuff from your stores but less stuff overall? Or is it just about more consumption of better products?
Hilary: That’s the $64,000 question! In the long term, it’s about buying better products and so we have to offer better products. Our concern is that to the layman this argument seems to be about selling less and having less and that the developing world can’t have what the developed world have already got. It’s a tricky one to communicate and it isn’t being well communicated at present.”
B&Q’s vision is “to improve the quality of life of all the people the business touches”. The company’s approach to complex issues such as sustainable consumption and production is guided by this vision. Hilary provided insight on this, when asked the following question:
“Why are B&Q following a sustainable agenda when their customers seem to be more concerned about price?
Because we want to be a responsible and sustainable company – we want to answer the needs of all our stakeholders, and investors can be key here. We believe we are a few years ahead of our customers in answering these needs; but when they do switch on to this issue, and they eventually will, we will be in a good place and have the right product.”
- Article 13’s research report: The Vanguard of New Product Development, October 2004. Click here to order a copy.
- B&Q’s website
- Article 13’s report on the stakeholder event held in July 2004 on Taking it Forward; Sustainable Consumption and Production
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