By Chris Smith
For many of us, entering the world of employment, we might find that our first job is with a large food retailer. Across Western Europe, the food market is dominated by a number of large corporations including, but not limited to, Walmart, Carrefour, Metro AG, Tesco, as well as many more subsidiaries. In order to sustain businesses on such a massive scale, these businesses require large numbers of staff in order to fulfill day-to-day operations. Much of the work required to keep these companies going from falls under the remit of the customer assistant. The traditional customer assistant role is defined as being fairly low-skilled, low-paid, and often filled by young people as their first job.
As food retailers have the potential to have a large environmental impact across their operations, be it through sourcing suppliers, how their products are farmed and produced, logistical operations, as well as the environmental impact of store locations, it is doubly important for a succinct environmental policy to be implemented. A quick look on the big players websites such as Walmart, Lidl and Tesco shows that these businesses do appear to take the environmental cost of their operations seriously. An environmental mission statement is only as good as it's execution, however. For a large retailer to reduce it's impact on the environment, an green attitude must be adopted across the entire business.
Last month, Raz Godelnik argued that CEOs have limited control over the environmental impact of their businesses. Here, the issue is largely similar, as it requires engagement from staff at every level. The question that those in the upper management level should be asking themselves is what can be done to encourage every single one of our employees to invest in our vision for sustainability.
Some retailers are better at employee engagement than others. The UK supermarket Waitrose is part of the John Lewis Partnership, an employee owned department store, famed for how well it's staff are treated. John Lewis is frequently cited as being one of the best companies to work for in the UK. Looking at Waitrose, we can see that this same attitude is fostered through the treatment of new employees. Upon receiving a work contract, new customer assistants are given shares in the company and made 'Partners' through their Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Giving new workers a tangible stake in their place of work is a proven method of improving company commitment.
The Waitrose website reveals a strong commitment to environmentalism. The business practices they have implemented cover a variety of issues, ranging from reducing the amount of waste generated by individual stores, to the responsible sourcing of fish, as well as collaborative work with environmental charities such as The Woodlands Trust and The Prince's Countryside Trust. Bringing it back to the workers of Waitrose themselves, what can we glean from this combination of staff engagement and ambitious environmental policy?
A closer look at the supermarket's Indeed profile shows a rather impressive 4.1 out of 5 score. This gives us a snapshot that Waitroses' employees are satisfied, and makes for interesting reading when compared with other British supermarkets such as the Walmart owned ASDA, whose employees gave them 3.7 out of 5, and Tesco, who have 3.8. So when we put satisfied staff with an ambitious environmental policy, what do we have? (Interestingly, Waitrose's parent company John Lewis, which also uses an ESOP has a rating of 4.2.)
Research conducted by ethicalConsumer.com found Waitrose to be the third most ethical supermarket in the UK behind the Co-Op and M&S. The poll's scoring system actually puts Waitrose top of the pile, however researchers at ethicalConsumer.com have adjusted their qualitative data to put the Co-Op and M&S ahead. The research took into account a number of variables including workers rights, supply chain management, and environmental impact. As Waitrose scores high on both how they treat their employees, and how environmentally conscious they are, other retailers should recognise that the two go hand in hand.
It's all too easy to stereotype low level supermarket customer assistants as disinterested and workshy. What we see online does little to help dissipate this image, with the likes of Grocery Store Bingo, and the People of Walmart website. However, when a large company takes the time to engage and invest in employees at every level, you end up with a business with a common goal. When that goal is to reduce the environmental impact inflicted by their operations, we end up with an example that other food retailers should be following.
Image credit: Duncan Hull, Flickr