As Chief Property, Export and Sustainability Officer for the Coles Group, Thinus Keeve has a unique
perspective on the sustainability journey being undertaken by one of the nation’s most iconic
Retailers. From renewable energy partnerships through to experiential store concepts, we
spoke with Thinus to find out how Coles is realising its ambition to be Australia’s most
Coles has recently launched a refreshed sustainability strategy built around the two pillars of ‘Together to Zero’ and ‘Better Together’. Can you shed some light on the commitments covered by this new strategy?
As part of our ambition to be Australia’s most sustainable supermarket, we’ve recently launched our refreshed sustainability strategy built around the pillars of ‘Together to Zero’ and ‘Better Together’.
Together to Zero sets our ambitions to reduce our environmental impacts, protecting our planet and climate, and our bold long-term ambition towards zero emissions, zero waste and zero hunger.
We’ve already made progress on these ambitions through our long-term partnerships with REDcycle and food rescue organisation SecondBite. We have also recently released our Climate Change Position Statement and new climate-related commitments.
Our commitments include delivering net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by more than 75 per cent by the end of FY30 (from a FY20 baseline) and to be powered by 100% renewable electricity by the end of FY25.
We’ve made solid progress, but there is still much work to do.
The other pillar of Better Together is an acknowledgment that we can only achieve these and other ambitions by working with and building strong relationships with our customers, team members, farmers, suppliers, communities and other stakeholders.
What tangible action has been devised for securing these ambitious targets?
We’re already well on the path to deliver on each of these targets – some through existing partnerships and others through new energy agreements.
After becoming the first major Australian retailer to commit to buying renewable energy through a power purchase agreement in 2019, we’ve signed several further agreements with major renewable energy companies
Just a few weeks ago we signed two additional agreements with renewable energy companies ENGIE and Neoen. When this is added to progress already made on renewable power purchase agreements, onsite solar and largescale generation certificate (LGC) deals, we’ve already committed to purchasing more than 70% of the renewable electricity required to meet our FY25 target, once the agreements commence. This shows that we haven’t just made commitments – we’re also making meaningful progress on them.
In addition to our progress on renewable electricity agreements, we’ve also worked hard to reduce our Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 36.5% since 2009.
We are also focused on reducing waste.
Earlier this year, we announced that Coles Group will no longer sell single-use plastic tableware products including cups, plates, bowls, straws and cutlery from July 1 2021 – effectively diverting 1.5 million kilograms worth of single-use plastic from landfill each year.
Lastly, in partnership with Licella, iQ Renew, LyondellBasell and Nestlé, we recently announced a joint feasibility study to determine the technical, economic, and environmental benefits of a local advanced recycling facility in Victoria.
Advanced recycling offers new life to old soft plastic by turning it back into oil. This oil can be used to produce new soft plastic food packaging from recycled soft plastic, such as flexible packaging used for confectionery, bread bags, cereal liners and biscuit wrappers. This new collaboration marks the first step into a circular economy for soft plastic packaging.
Consumers are increasingly judging brands on the experiences they deliver and the values they espouse. How is Coles innovating the supermarket model to create localised, experiential destinations for consumers?
In recent years, we’ve made a big effort to sell smarter by aligning our store layouts and ranges to the needs of the local community, while also making store operations more efficient.
Using advanced data analytics to ensure the right product is offered in the right store, we’ve increased the frequency of range changes across the majority of our categories, capturing the latest innovations in areas such as ready meals, health foods, coffee and pet food.
This has complimented our tailored store format strategy, where we look to implement the best format of store to cater to the specific needs of the local community. This, for example, could be a larger supermarket in a growth area, or a smaller format supermarket that delivers both great value and premium solutions for inner-city customers.
Our Coles Local supermarket format is a great example of a smaller, localised store tailored to the community. The format has been very popular with our customers as we’ve been able to incorporate a tailored range with the latest consumer experiences and sustainability initiatives. In these stores we also have supplier partnerships with established local brands, which has also been very attractive for our customers.
Lastly, in some of our flagship stores we’re experimenting with market-leading sustainability concepts like ‘packageless’ refill stations, green plant walls and in-store concessions — in what we’ve coined as our new ‘grocerant’ store format. In our recently-opened Moonee Ponds store in Victoria, we partnered with leading brands like Roll’d, Tremila Pizza and The Fishery to serve up Vietnamese street food, fresh seafood, stone-fired pizza in a dedicated food hall for customers.
The pandemic placed extreme pressure on the nation’s supermarkets. As we emerge through the pandemic, what key learnings can you share with us around building the resilience of your store supply networks?
Our approximately 120,000-strong team at Coles has been through some extraordinary challenges and seen significant change since the start of the pandemic, as they worked tirelessly to ensure our customers had access to the essential food and groceries they needed.
As COVID-19 made its way across the country, we saw demand for groceries soar and we had to respond quickly.
We were able to move at pace and turn around transformational business projects in record time. Within a few weeks, we’d hired thousands of new team members, set up pop-up distribution centres in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, implemented new hygiene procedures, established Community Hour and our Coles Online Priority Service (COPS) to help support vulnerable Australians.
It was truly a team effort as we worked collaboratively with suppliers, governments, industry stakeholders and our property partners to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. Our team has now safely served our customers through hundreds of millions of shopping trips since the pandemic began.
The pandemic really taught us that it is essential to take an omni-channel shopping approach, as the influence of online shopping and technology reshapes our retail landscape. Over the last year, we’ve worked to innovate our bricks and mortar offer to complement significant headway being made in the online space. We’ve also launched innovations like Click&Collect Rapid and Coles Plus, inspiring our customers with expedited delivery and more options to shop online with us.
Lastly, we’ve made solid progress on our partnership with global automation experts Witron to construct two ambient automated distribution centres in Queensland and New South Wales, and the construction of two Ocado Online customer fulfilment centres in Victoria and New South Wales has also commenced. When complete, these facilities will be part solar-powered and will provide industry-leading supply chain capability and online fulfilment technology.