19 December 2018

Iceland's Christmas advert

A screenshot from the Iceland advert.

Food retailer Iceland hit the headlines in November thanks to a banned TV ad. Far from causing an outcry over its content, the ad gained huge momentum online, racking up more than 70 million views so far.

The ad? I am sure you’ve seen it by now. It’s calling for a palm-oil-free Christmas to protect the habitat of endangered species including orangutans. A brave Xmas ad for a supermarket, considering there is no mention of price or product.

So who is behind the bold decision to tackle an environmental crisis rather than joining the festive frenzy? Iceland’s new MD, Richard Walker.

Richard took on the MD role back in August of this year. He immediately pledged to remove plastics from Iceland’s own-brand packaging by 2023 and replace palm oil in their own-brand products. In the latest episode of my podcast, Mind Your Own Business, I interview Richard to find out more about this commitment to the environment and was fascinated to hear his story.

Growing up, Richard wanted to do anything other than follow in his father’s supermarket footsteps. Yet, a few decades on, Richard is now revolutionising the industry by removing some of the most widely used but damaging practices.

Far from being a PR stunt, Richard has always been passionate about the environment. He visited Indonesia and palm plantations to see the environmental impact first hand. The wake-up call came after seeing sustainable certified producers breaking the rules, and meeting injured animals who suffered the consequences of unsustainable palm oil practices.

An ethical decision

Whilst the ad has undoubtedly knocked John Lewis off the festive-ad throne, it’s not been an easy ride. First the advert was banned from TV, but what followed could have been significantly more damaging.

Richard says the Indonesian and Malaysian governments have been doing their best to stop him lobbying for change as, of course, the industry brings huge benefits to their local economy. In our chat Richard highlighted that he is not anti-palm oil, he is instead anti-deforestation. And until the practices in the industry can be improved, he has pledged to step away from palm oil in Iceland products. This earned him an online smear campaign, trying to tarnish his reputation and downplay his efforts.

Richard Walker and Lawrence Jones MBE chat for the Mind Your Own Business podcast

Richard recording the podcast.

In fact, Iceland’s anti-palm oil push has been a £5 million investment. The ethical decision is trailblazing in an industry where Richard says 50% of products contain palm oil. After two years of debate, research and trial and error, Iceland are leading the way. So much so that luxury retailer Selfridges is stocking Iceland’s mince pies – the only known mince pies to be palm oil free.

This podcast was certainly eye opening for me. There is so much more than we can do collectively to protect our planet, especially at this time of year. Christmas is one of the most wasteful occasions with bins full of potentially recyclable waste. I think we could all do to remember this when we’re throwing out the rubbish come Boxing Day morning.

Subscribe on iTunes to listen in to the latest Mind Your Own Business episodes. Let me know what you think of Iceland’s environmental push in the comments below.

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