Just one third of plastics are recycled in the UK: the rest are illegally dumped, go to landfill or are incinerated. Plastic is killing our oceans, threatening the ecosystem and risking the health of future generations. This was laid bare in Blue Planet II, but when Sir David Attenborough made an impassioned plea to supermarkets to tackle the issue, little did he know that work had already started at Iceland Foods.
One year before Blue Planet aired, managing director Richard Walker, a passionate environmentalist, had made the decision to eliminate plastics from Iceland Foods’ own label packaging. The company was prioritising responsible business over convenience, and needed a campaign to maximise impact and mobilise support. The campaign had to disrupt the status quo on plastic packaging by raising awareness and prompting a public debate - it is, as the judges commented, a ‘game changing initiative’.
The #TooCoolforPlastic campaign was not only targeted at staff and consumers, but at Iceland’s competitors, to encourage them to follow, and policy markers. It was led by Walker, with the full backing of the Board. It also had the support of Greenpeace, who had shared insight on the impact of plastic as Iceland developed its strategy.
Prior to the news, Iceland met with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to brief the government body on its plans - Walker was subsequently invited to lead DEFRA’s Council for Sustainable Business, briefing environment secretary Michael Gove. The supermarket chain also engaged with suppliers to prepare them for the change.
The announcement that Iceland was to remove plastic packaging from all its own label foods by 2023, affecting more than 1,400 product lines, came just a week after Prime Minister Theresa May revealed her Environmental Strategy, in which she urged supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles. May used Twitter to welcomed Iceland’s move, and repeat a call to action. Waitrose and Asda subsequently made plastic pledges.
The news received global coverage, kicking off with a front page exclusive in the Daily Mail and interviews on Good Morning Britain and Radio 4’s Today programme. There were 524 items of coverage.
It also prompted a change in customer perception. Iceland achieved its highest brand buzz in a decade. On 21 December 2017, just three per cent of consumers viewed Iceland as the most environmentally friendly supermarket. One month later, 25.36 per cent of consumers held that view. (Its nearest rival was Tesco on 15 per cent.)
Greenpeace shared the news with its one million plus supporters, inviting them to sign a petition calling on supermarkets to follow Iceland’s lead. Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, Marine Conservation Society and A Plastic Planet were among the non-governmental organisations to discuss Iceland’s move on social media. Well known environmentalists, including Ben Fogle and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who opined for The Guardian that ‘Iceland is showing that what is essential is also possible’, also showed support.
And 200 MPs from seven different political parties wrote to the chief executives of Britain’s supermarkets urging them to follow Iceland’s lead and eliminate plastic packaging.
‘This initiative is true to Iceland’s purpose,’ said the judges. ‘Iceland has always been innovative - but this really leads the whole sector and sets a new standard for how business should ‘own’ societal issues and really work to make a difference. The outcomes are astonishing. This is a stand out winner.’