Waitrose Company Review

January 12, 2017

Welcome to the Waitrose company review. In this series of articles, we put the spotlight on businesses that we think are doing ambitious and honorable things for the environment. These features will cover things like corporate social responsibility, sustainability, green credentials, carbon reduction measures, recycling, reuse and reduction efforts, supply chain responsibility, and more.

Each category will be scored out of 20, to give a total score of 100.

For this piece we have chosen Waitrose, a supermarket chain with a reputation for quality, social responsibility, and luxury. We are curious to know whether this reputation can be backed up, or whether it’s the result of excellent PR work. Now a part of the John Lewis Partnership, Waitrose has been active since 1904, and has more than 350 stores with over 52,000 employees. This is a huge business with a huge potential for good.


Score: 14%

Most interestingly, Waitrose has chosen to focus on the natural produce section of their company for the most active work on sustainability, with a whole division collaborating for ideas. They have six goals as stated on their website.  To enhance the communication of ideas, developments and enthusiasm between Waitrose, its suppliers, growers of fresh produce and selected research providers Raise the profile of food security and sustainability issues Exert a positive impact by working together as an industry Increase young people’s interest in food issues Drive science into farm performance through increased funding and Waitrose engagement Communicate possible scientific solutions based on outputs of the Waitrose Farm Assessment The exact areas in which they are trying to introduce breakthroughs are in soil, water, biodiversity, crop nutrition and production, quality, harvesting, waste and employee welfare.  They’re not only great at introducing sustainability to their food; the Waitrose clothing section has made drastic changes to the way their materials are sourced, as explained here: ‘Waitrose recognises that the production of cotton based products has significant economic, environmental and social impacts. Our cotton sourcing policy details the role we have to play in supporting responsible farming practices in the production of cotton.’ ‘It is our aim that by December 2020 all cotton used in our own label Clothing and Home ranges will be sourced responsibly deploying schemes such as the Better Cotton Initiative, Cotton Made in Africa and Fairtrade certified.’

Green Credentials

Score: 17%

Member of the Better Cotton Initiative The Marine Stewardship Council ranks Waitrose #1 for sustainable seafood Using their in-store ‘Green Token’ scheme to support charities such as the Campaign for National Parks, Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, and Men’s Sheds Association Awarded top marks in Global Benchmark on Animal Welfare report Compassion in World Farming Awards - Best Retailer (twice!) Only procuring food from SALSA organisations - Safe And Local Supplier Approved Member of the Prince’s Countryside Fund supporting rural and agricultural communities and projects Working with Ecotricity, so that now all UK stores are 100% renewable energy powered, some have electric car charging ports, and they are investing in a fleet of eco-delivery trucks Trying to find out about their green and environmental schemes was tough, either they lack transparency, or they are not so involved on this front. However, whilst they might not be a member of as many progressive organisations as some of their competitors, the hard work they put in is clearly being noticed if they are winning global awards. 

Corporate Social Responsibility Test

Score: 20%

Here’s where Waitrose really begins to shine. Their efforts and transparency in trying to improve the lives of their employees and local communities should not go unrecognised. For 17 years they have openly shared a CSR report that shows their policies, principles, environmental impacts, supplier decisions, community work and more. This report is an in-depth and fascinating insight into how Waitrose actively approaches sensitive topics such as farming, health & wellbeing, diversity, inclusion, and the discussion of modern slavery.  In 2017, more than £4 million was donated from branches into their local communities to support various schemes. They also gave workshops and talks to more than 180,000 children in schools in the same year. The money collected from the plastic bag charge went to Alzheimer’s research at UCL, and was an impressive £3.2 million.  Staff are always referred to as partners, and as such they receive additional financial dividends for their hard work. A recent drive to improve health & wellness in the workplace has seen them receive discounts for recreational activities and hotels around the country. As well as this, a mental health service has been introduced for staff, with positive results shown, which will no doubt back up their attempts to become Britain’s Healthiest Workplace.  One of the most impressive and heartwarming aspects of their CSR efforts is that they set up a network for every demographic that might feel marginalised, or would require some extra support to reach their full potential. These eight networks are explained below.   LINKage - The intergenerational or age network. It aims to build awareness of the benefits and challenges of an intergenerational workforce.    Working Parents - Working Parents aims to support individual working parents and inspire the way that the Partnership supports working parents.    UNITY - The Partnership’s official network for BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) Partners.  Gender Equality Network (GEN) - GEN aims to challenge stereotypes and influence the business in its thinking as it relates to gender.  Pride in the Partnership - The Partnership’s LGBT+ network, which promotes inclusivity and provides support.  Faith, Belief and Religion - Aims to educate, celebrate and challenge the Partnership on faith and religion.  Ability - A group of Partners who face mental, physical and learning challenges, who aim to raise awareness.  School of Thought - Aims to help Partners understand their unique qualities and perspectives and use them to challenge the status quo. Of course, we’ve already explained how Waitrose helps their farmers, and it’s important to note that they are a supporter of Fairtrade products too. However, one act that might go unnoticed is that they are supporting coastal communities through the Great British Beach Clean, with 15 events throughout 2017 and 2018. 

Carbon Footprint

Score: 16%

It must be noted that when you analyse your supply chains, your stores, you activities and your staff, if you do it compassionately, the changes you make will inherently reduce carbon footprint, in most instances. This is the case for Waitrose.  Their sustainable fishing efforts reduces carbon emissions, their decision to switch to renewable energy reduces carbon emissions, their electric fleet investment reduces carbon emissions, and their charity work also reduces carbon emissions. By getting heavily involved in sustainable farming research, they have a massive opportunity to contribute towards the large carbon footprint of agriculture, and to reduce it.  Here’s some more things they do: They purchase green electricity  They send no food waste to landfill. All surplus food that is no longer edible (and so can't be donated to charity) is used to make energy through a process called 'anaerobic digestion'. This has also helped them to achieve their target of sending zero food waste to landfill They use low carbon technology in shops They’ve planted trees with the Woodland Trust to absorb the carbon from their deliveries They are supporting LEAF - Linking Environment and Farming, an agriculture charity They are supporting WildCare, helping to improve the wildlife habitat and biodiversity of farms

Recycling, Reuse, Reduction

Score: 14%

First, let’s look at their packaging efforts. Since 2009, packaging on products has been reduced by almost 50%, an impressive effort. In July 2018, they committed to making all of their packaging recyclable or compostable by 2025. By 2019, there will be no more black plastic packaging, as it often doesn’t get recycled. They stopped selling products with microbeads in 2016, and in 2018 they stopped selling plastic straws.  Businesses of a certain size have to pay a contribution to the government to help recycle consumer packaging, and for Waitrose that’s about £1m per year. Outside of that, they’ve had effective recycling strategies in place in their stores and depots for over 20 years, showing a clear long term commitment to resource efficiency. Plastic bag, battery and mobile phone recycling is available in most stores too. You can read about their waste electronics recycling scheme here. In 2017, £2.1 worth of fresh food stock was diverted to local charities, good causes and food banks. The company does everything it can to predict wastage by monitoring buying habits, and they work with FareShare, a service that helps divert food to charities.

Total Eco Score

Score: 81%