BRAKES IS publishing a revised sustainability strategy. Its chief operating officer explains the changes, including some that are a consequence of the horse meat scandal.
David Burrows (DB): Good morning Ian. You’re about to launch a new sustainability strategy – what has prompted this?
Ian Goldsmith (IG): Our CSER [corporate social and environmental responsibility] strategy isn’t “new”, but it is receiving a renewed focus. We already operate to high standards, but we are showing our commitment by investing in infrastructure, as well as sourcing. Under each of our five CSER pillars – environment, responsible sourcing, health and nutrition, community and our people – we have ambitious targets and commitments.
DB: What have been the biggest achievements in the past year?
IG: I think the opening of the Reading depot would be up there. Reading is a step change in environmental and sustainable development, and this was recognised recently through the Footprint Sustainable Use of Natural Resources Award. On-site smart technologies have resulted in energy savings of over 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, whilst rainwater harvesting and highly efficient cooling towers save 4m litres of water per year. Some 90% of back-door waste is being reused, recycled or recovered.
DB: Are customers demanding more evidence of your progress in areas such as energy, sourcing and carbon in the tendering process?
IG: It’s been important for many of our largest customers and a part of most public-sector tender documents for a while. However, in recent years we have seen CSER issues become more and more important.
DB: Transparency is a hot topic at the moment and there are new proposals in your CSER strategy on the back of the horse meat scandal. Can you explain a little more about these?
IG: Horse meat has obviously had a tremendous impact on the foodservice industry. Our aspiration continues to be to lead the industry in its testing regime. And we will be transparent about what we find. We have made, or are in the process of making, several changes to how we source products which will simplify and shorten the overall supply chain. We have published all our test results, as well as exactly what we are doing, and the progress we are making in these key areas is on our website.
DB: Brakes was, however, criticised by MSPs during the scandal for not being transparent enough. What have you learned from that?
IG: We worked closely with suppliers, media and our customers, as well as authorities such as the Food Standards Agency, to ensure we were transparent on all issues. We acted quickly to reassure and communicate to customers that the necessary precautions were being taken. Customer feedback on how the situation was handled, and the actions taken to prevent it happening in the future, have been very positive.
DB: Your policy on British sourcing is to “meet all our customers’ needs who want to buy British”, because customers make their own decisions and so “Brakes cannot commit to volume or distribution targets”. But is there a role for companies like Brakes to encourage clients to source more British produce and take on other sustainability aspirations?
IG: We already have 70 fresh beef Red Tractor products in our range. What we’ve done recently is to confirm that our highest selling frozen beef minced and diced products will all move to British-sourced Red Tractor supply, which has increased the choice to operators. We must, of course, deliver the products our customers want, but wherever possible we are happy to
help try and drive consumption of British products.