I'm No Leadership Guru But...

I'm no leadership guru but I reckon Coles management made the wrong decision yesterday when they announced a black flip on their commitment to phase out plastic bags.

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Instead of following through with the removal of plastic bags from checkouts, Coles have decided to give out free re-usable plastic bags to their customers indefinitely. The rationale, according to the company, is that customers need more time to adjust to bringing their own re-usable bags. 

But we don't have more time.

It was 2005 when Melissa Etheridge sang 'I Need to Wake Up' the theme song to accompany Al Gore's documentary - 'An Inconvenient Truth'. At that point we already knew we needed to make big changes to address the growing threats to our planet. 

But the truth about the planet is inconvenient and it's hard to wake a business if it's pretending to be asleep.   

However, with the degree of attention being given to the environment currently, you could be virtually asleep and still be aware of the issues associated with plastics in our oceans, and the fact we use 1.7 times the planets natural resources to meet our current lifestyle. 

Our habits are eroding our environment and we have a responsibility to do something about it. Ignoring the problem by doing a doona dive won't make it go away.

The thing is - it's not just about saving the planet - given, some care about this and some don’t. It's also about business growth. It's hard to see how Coles will gain customers from this decision. Sure, some irate customers who could be inconvenienced when they forget, or don't bring enough re-usable bags will be appeased and Coles will keep these customers. 

But they'll lose those who care about the environment and want to do their bit to make a difference. And significant numbers of people want to make a difference - it's one of the drivers that gives our lives meaning.

 “The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, its indifference".

Elie Wiesel

In the research for my new book, Food for a Better Future, I interviewed Tristan Harris from Harris Farm Markets. Sitting at the core of their business is their belief in fairness. Fairness drives everything they do because that's what they believe. 

If you truly believe in something, you don't black flip - you find solutions. 

Backed by their values and beliefs around reducing plastic because 'it's the right thing to do' and is consistent with their commitment to the 'Greater Goodness', Harris Farm were well positioned to comment on this issue yesterday and to call on Woolworths not to follow suit.

Those in the business of food can make a significant difference to the future health of the planet, the health of our communities and to protecting our natural resources. They can also set themselves up for future growth by developing and committing to values around their food - how it's produced, distributed, sold and consumed. 

But we need leaders who understand and believe this to be the case. 

Food production accounts for 30% of the world's energy consumption and 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions. We use billions of plastic shopping bags a year. 

Food can be at the centre of providing significant solutions - from production, through to distribution, retailing and consumption. Now is the time for leaders in the business of food to lead customers to a better place, and to know when it's useful to follow consumer demands, but also when it's not.

 If your beliefs don't come from the core of your leadership team, then you're at risk of back flipping. Not only does that mean we're using up more time that we don't have, it also means from a business perspective, you risk losing more customers than you'll gain. And that's not good for the planet or for the shareholders.