Nick Folland, Kingfisher: Going beyond compliance

Businesses can make a profit from sustainability providing they have a sustainability plan.

We believe business can and should make a profit from being sustainable. It is why Kingfisher has taken a strategic decision to put sustainability at the heart of our business strategy.

If a business is to lead in sustainability, commercial teams must see the value within it. Without this, it will never become truly hard-wired into the business plan and, as a consequence, will always sit on the fringes of the corporate world.

Yet this should not mean that the business's principles of responsible behaviour need be compromised. Quite the opposite; by making sustainability central to corporate objectives, we make the entire value chain adhere to those principles.

Every colleague, from the chief executive downwards, should know they will be judged not only by how much money they make but also by how they make their money. Market leadership and sustainability leadership are not mutually exclusive.

We are one of the world's largest home improvement retailers, with operations spanning eight countries, from established market-leading brands such as B&Q in the UK and Castorama in France, to fast-growing businesses in emerging markets such as China and Russia.

The group has prioritised four areas: support for local communities; innovation to create more sustainable products; energy conservation; and sustainable timber. This final topic provides a very clear illustration of how we like to operate.

As one of the world's largest buyers of wood, we realised more than 20 years ago that unless we could develop a mass market in sustainable timber, it would soon become impossible to provide decking and garden furniture for our customers that was both affordable and sustainable.

All B&Q's wood products now come from well-managed, renewable sources and the rest of our businesses are getting there.

We hope this is a claim that our competitors will soon be able to make - in 2010, we successfully campaigned for an EU-wide ban on the import and possession of illegal timber.

If we are not being challenged, we will raise standards ourselves.

While 'greening' our upstream supply chain has been a challenge, this may be the easy bit when compared with transforming the downstream business.

Stimulating demand is at the heart of much of what we do as retailers and in the past the sector has sometimes rightly been criticised for encouraging the so-called throw-away culture.

Retailers have a responsibility to deploy the skills we have always had in product innovation and marketing to help develop a culture that enables our customers to live more sustainably.

At Kingfisher, we are investing in more sustainable products, developing a partnership between our Innovation Centre in Lille and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The aim is to bring the circular economy to our customers by giving them the ability to choose 'closed loop' products.

In the UK, we have been working hard with the Government to make a success of the 'Green Deal' project, which will encourage households to invest in home insulation and other affordable energy-saving products.

Our ambition is to help in taking that model to our European markets.

We feel that too often businesses, particularly in the field of sustainability, mistake compliance for leadership. True leadership is about setting transparent, measurable but genuinely stretching goals and then ensuring everyone in the business is focused on reaching them. Businesses can make a profit from sustainability - if it has a sustainable business plan.

Nick Folland is legal & corporate responsibility director at Kingfisher.

Thought Leadership credentials

  • Kingfisher, Europe's largest home improvement retailer, was the first business of its size to receive full certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), in 2008. It reported a two per cent growth in FSC-certified timber product sales during the following year.
  • Kingfisher has been praised by the Rainforest Alliance as 'one of the world's leading companies in driving sustainability'.
  • In the UK, Kingfisher is working with the Government to deliver energy retrofits (upgrades) through the Green Deal.

From PRWeek’s ‘What is a Thought Leader?’ supplement

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