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Retail Forum

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Retail Forum?

The Retail Forum was launched in March 2009 as a voluntary multi-stakeholder platform. It was set up to facilitate dialogue between retailers and key stakeholders and to exchange best practices in the interest of stimulating environmental improvements in the retail sector and the supply chain, and to increase environmental awareness among consumers. With an initial time-frame of three years, a review is planned on whether to extend its duration and for how long. As of now, it remains highly likely that the Retail Forum will continue.

2. What is the REAP?

The Retail Forum originates from the Retailers' Environmental Action Programme (REAP). REAP serves as the terms of reference of the Forum and it provides the mechanism with which dialogue between the European Commission, European retailers and other stakeholders is facilitated. As an annex to REAP, there has been formulated the Matrix of Environmental Action Points (MAP) through which all retailers have made individual commitments towards sustainability. These commitments can be viewed through the REAP Database. (See Question 8.)

3. What are the goals of the Retail Forum?

The goals of the Forum are to facilitate action on the EU Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Planby having retailers sign up and contributing voluntarily to:

  • reducing the environmental footprint of the retail sector and its supply chain;
  • promoting more sustainable products;
  • better informing consumers on sustainability.

4. Why do we need the Retail Forum?

Unsustainable consumption and production patterns are increasingly affecting the natural environment and our society. We need to redesign the products we produce and the processes that we use in a more sustainable way. We need to change our consumption habits but in order to do so, need to know where and how to buy environmentally friendlier products. The collaboration between the European Commission, retailers and other stakeholders has been set up in order to achieve these goals through the sharing of best practices and making individual environmental commitments under REAP.

5. How will it benefit consumers?

Retail outlets are where millions of European citizens visit on a daily basis to look for and buy the products that they need. As such, this is the most logical place for them to seek out more information on the environmental features of these products, making retailers an essential part of the solution. As key messengers between consumers and producers, retailers have enormous power to raise awareness and influence shopping choices by putting more sustainable options on the shelves. 

Ultimately, this can lead to better and greener products on the shelves for consumers at more affordable prices. Furthermore, consumers will be delivered greater important information on how to use, recycle and dispose of the products that they buy.

6. How will it benefit retailers?

Retailers are increasingly recognising sustainability as an opportunity for their businesses to grow, compete and innovate – the main driver for this being their customers. As such, offering a wider choice of greener products or removing unsustainable products from their shelves is an excellent means by which retailers can present their environmental credentials to consumers. Indeed, consumer demand is the benchmark for the sector and retailers compete strongly to offer the products and services requested by consumers – including more sustainable ones.

Additionally, more sustainable business practice can result in reduced costs for retailers as energy and water use is reduced, resources are used more efficiently and potential future taxes and regulations are anticipated.

And as sustainable practice increasingly becomes the expected standard, retailers already engaged in this issue can find themselves in a position to attract the best staff and improve relations with current employees.

7. Who can become a member of the Forum?

All individual retailers and their umbrella organisations that subscribe to REAP and commit to ambitious and company-specific environmental actions can become members of the Forum. (See next question.)

8. What are the retailers' individual environmental commitments?

Commitments vary significantly depending on the sector in which the retailer is operating in and the environmental policy pursued. All commitments made by Retail Forum members are available to be viewed in the REAP Database. This list is updated annually by the retailers and the commitments are divided into three broad categories depending on the objective to be achieved: What we sell, How we sell, and Communication.

What we sell are actions aimed at selling lower-impact, better performing products (i.e. to sell only 100% sustainable fish).

How we sell lists actions aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of retailers and supply chain (i.e. store management and transport of goods).

Communication encompasses actions designed to inform and empower consumers to make better choices when shopping (i.e. circulating a brochure in the store on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle or informing the consumers on the retailer's sustainability initiatives).

9. How will the achievements of the retail sector be measured?

To ensure accountability, each member of the Retail Forum is required to report on the progress of their environmental commitments annually. Additionally, the European Commission monitors the fulfillment of individual commitments presents the results annually.

This independent monitoring exercise uses a methodology agreed upon by the members. The aim is to ensure transparency of the process and to make the achievements of the best performing retailers visible. To be properly monitored, the commitments must be verifiable. This means that for each commitment, there must be three key elements indicated: a target, a baseline, and a time-frame.

10. Who else can participate in Retail Forum meetings?

Although it is only the European Commission and retailers who can become members of the Forum, all relevant stakeholders can take part in meetings. They are expected to make positive contributions to the work of the Forum on the basis of their expertise or involvement with the topics under discussion. There are no significant differences between being a Forum member or participant, as both are on an equal footing in terms of presenting best practices or contributing to meetings. The significant differentiation is that members may contribute to setting the agenda of meetings, which is decided upon by the Retail Forums co-chairs: the European Commission and EuroCommerce.

If a relevant stakeholder wishes to become a participant of the Retail Forum, they must follow three simple registration steps. Click here to find out more on registering as a participant.

11. Is the Retail Forum a decision-making body?

The Retail Forum is not a decision-making body and all outcomes are of a voluntary nature. However, the Forum is expected to have an impact both upstream in greening the supply chain and downstream by increasing consumers’ green awareness.

12. What are the Retail Forum Issue Papers?

At each meeting certain retailers and stakeholders are invited to make presentations on examples of best practice relating to pre-decided topic under discussion. According to the Retail Forum Work Plan 2009 – 2011, two topics are discussed at each meeting: that which was presented at the previous meeting and the new one as scheduled. The objective of this rolling agenda is to create a series of substantive but concise issue papers on the different topics discussed.                 

The issue papers are drafted by ERRT and EuroCommerce, the umbrella retail organisations, in close collaboration with DG Environment and other European Commission departments. These papers analyse the EU legislative framework, identify barriers and opportunities, highlight best practices, and suggests possible areas of action for policy-makers, retailers and other stakeholders. A draft of the issue paper is presented and discussed at the following meeting, with a view to finalising it by incorporating input from all the stakeholders involved in the process.

The Issue Papers set out the Retail Forum's common understanding of the issues at stake and should facilitate the adoption of legislative or non-legislative measures where appropriate. In particular, the conclusions of each issue paper play an important role in identifying which areas may require legislation and which could be covered by a Code of Conduct.

13. What is the envisaged retailers' Code of Conduct?

The recommendation for a voluntary Code of Conduct was presented in the Council Conclusions of 5th December 2008, which endorsed the EU Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan and welcomed the creation of the Retail Forum. However, the idea of a voluntary agreement in the retail sector is not new. In some Member States over the last five years there has already been collaboration among retailers and public authorities with the objective of promoting sustainable consumption and production by means of voluntary environmental agreements. The scope of the proposed code of conduct is more ambitious than previous national initiatives because it aims to cover the entire territory of the EU and to become an effective alternative to new regulation for the sector on environmental aspects.

It aims at further reducing the environmental footprint of the sector, promoting more sustainable products, and better informing consumers.

14. What is the European Commission's role in the Retail Forum? How does the European Commission help the Forum?

The European Commission co-chairs Retail Forum meetings with a senior representative from EuroCommerce. The European Commission provides expertise and visibility to the process whilst at the same time monitors closely the environmental commitments made by retailers in the context of REAP.

15. What are the main outcomes of the Retail Forum?

The Retail Forum:

  • Creates a multi-stakeholder platform, where dialogue is used as means to provoke and encourage environmental improvements in the retail sector;
  • Produces a series of issue papers on the various relevant topics. These papers analyse the EU legislative framework, identify barriers and opportunities, highlight best practices, and suggest possible areas of action for policymakers, retailers and other stakeholders;
  • Manages and monitors the REAP Database and assesses the commitments contained.