In 1987 I went to Poland at the invitation of the British Academy/Polish Academy of Sciences. It was an interesting trip and we even published some quick reflections on the retailing we encountered in Warsaw and Krakow (see here).
Fast forward almost 30 years and this week I was back in Warsaw. It is safe to say it has changed. This time I was at the EURAM 2015 conference at the invitation of French colleagues to present at a symposium focused on their work on a ANR sponsored research project on sustainable development and retailing. In many ways given the pace and the direction of change in Poland in the last thirty years, the setting was highly appropriate. As Tomasz Domanski (University of Lodz) pointed out, Polish retailing is pretty much dominated by western names and from the hotel I could spot M&S, Zara, Sephora, Louis Vuitton, C&A(!) amongst others and even saw a Tesco home delivery van.
The symposium set out to analyse and compare sustainable development strategies in European retailing by sharing practice examples, analysing the activities undertaken and conceptualising the sustainable development needed for the future.
Six speakers from five countries presented case examples of practices in their country. The combination of cases led to a consideration of the scope and role of sustainable development, considering amongst others environmental, economic and social dimensions.
Enrico Colla (Novancia Business School, Paris) set the scene and fleshed out the breadth of issues retailers are facing and tackling in sustainable distribution. This was followed by ‘country’ examples from France (Laure Lavorata, Université Paris-Est), Spain (Maria-Eugenia Ruiz-Molina, University of Valencia), Germany (Hanna Schramm-Klein, Siegen University) and Poland (Tomasz Domanski, University of Lodz). In each case the presenters painted a broad picture of trends in this field and then some more detailed case studies drawn from major retailers.
My presentation, such as it was, can be found here. I too selected a couple of major retailers, Marks & Spencer and Tesco, partly because I began looking at their activities 5 years ago (see greeningretailing.ca), and have kept up a watching brief since. Around these examples I tried to construct a conceptual argument around retail transformations and challenges, including big questions from the political sphere about the role of retailing, and about where things might be headed.
The session was informative, as indeed were the almost as significant informal debates around the symposium. We have begun to construct a way forward for a European research agenda on this topic and if any retailers or academics are interested in learning more about our plans, or indeed taking part, then please get in contact.
A final thought; I did try to make the point that whilst we can learn a lot from the activities of the larger retailers, we must be aware of the very different locally embedded sustainable activities that are bubbling from the ground up. Already previously mentioned in this blog are Incredible Edible and Dig-in Bruntsfield but there are many more across the UK and indeed Europe. Such initiatives are every bit as worthy of attention, and bring a different standpoint, than do the largest retailers. We need to incorporate these developments in our discussions as well and reflect on the success they have achieved but also the obstacles they face.