Sustainability, social impact, and the supply chain – how to align purpose with growth

Wednesday 11 May 2022 11:20 CET | Editor: Raluca Constantinescu | Interview

We sat down with Laura Burbedge, Online Director at Waitrose & Partners, to learn more about the organisation's new purpose and the highlights of her forthcoming speaker session at IRX

How woul​d you describe the new purpose of Waitrose & Partners?
It's about happier people, happier business, happier planet.  We want to deliver benefits across all three sectors, so we’re challenging ourselves to push boundaries and innovate across areas including sustainability, inclusivity, social impact, and the supply chain. 

If we are to look at social impact, how can ecommerce reconcile the increasing customer trend to ‘shop local’? How does that manifest itself online?
Our operating model ensures that 80% of customers who order online will receive goods from their local store, thereby supporting the local community and reducing the carbon footprint behind deliveries.

You have a fleet of electric vehicles. What else are you doing to minimise your carbon footprint?
As well as having electric vehicles currently on trial, we have heavy goods vehicles operating on biomethane. We’ve also recently taken all the plastic bags out of our dot com operations.

The circular economy is a big consideration for the grocery industry, and it will manifest itself in 2023 through the deposit return scheme in Scotland. The challenge for retailers is to ensure they have the facilities in store to collect the bottles and cans.

Single-use plastics are also high on the agenda. What is Waitrose doing to reduce packaging around food?
We're continuing to remove unnecessary packaging in our supply chain where we can and introduce alternative materials to make recycling easier. We removed plastic bags from online orders, and we are currently trialling different plastics and packaging, particularly with the Duchy brand.

Additionally, we’ve recently introduced clear caps on our milk bottles – because, unlike coloured ones, they can be recycled back into food-grade packaging. Ultimately, our goal is to have reusable, widely recyclable, or home-compostable packaging for all own-brand products by 2023.

What do you think is the next big trend coming down the line in ecommerce?
It’s a trend but also a dilemma. Everything is now about fast convenience: ‘I want everything, and I want it in a few minutes’ time’. We’re among many supermarkets now offering grocery delivery in as little as 20 minutes – that’s where the market’s going and where the investment is. However, the dilemma we face is that this practice is ultimately putting more miles on the road. We need to satisfy customers' needs – but in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the planet.

As an industry, we really need to lean into this: how can we meet the demand for hyper convenience without impacting the environment via vehicle pollution, noise pollution, and increased congestion? We can’t afford as a country – and as a planet – not to lean into sustainability in a serious way.

Do brand values matter more than ever to the next generation of shoppers?
Absolutely. That’s the whole point behind our new purpose. It addresses the current global challenges head-on. Our purpose – people, planet, and business – ensures that environmental responsibility and the well-being of the communities where we operate go hand in hand with good business.

Laura Burbedge, Online Director at Waitrose & Partners, is delivering the conference keynote at IRX: Aligning purpose with growth: enabling ethical decision making in a growing digital business. IRX (InternetRetailing Expo) & eDX (eDelivery Expo) takes place on 11 and 12 May 2022. 

Register for free here. 

About Laura Burbedge 

Laura Burbedge joined The John Lewis Partnership in January 2016. She is the Online and Digital Director. Since Laura’s arrival at Waitrose, she has led the reinvention of She introduced product management and agile ways of working to Waitrose and scaled a multi-disciplinary team of over 200 people – all focused on delivering market-leading digital experiences for Waitrose customers and partners. has tripled in size and launched a new fast convenience offer in partnership with Deliveroo. 

About Waitrose 

The John Lewis Partnership owns and operates two of Britain's best-loved retail brands: John Lewis and Waitrose. Waitrose has 331 shops in England, Scotland, Wales, and the Channel Islands, including 59 convenience branches and another 27 shops at Welcome Break locations. The retailer's omnichannel business includes the online grocery service,, as well as specialist online shops, including for wine and for plants and flowers. 

About IRX 

IRX & eDX (InternetRetail Expo & eDelivery Expo) will provide retail professionals with the tools they need to support their business in the new climate. Retailers, brands, industry experts, and retail vendors from across the UK will gather to hear from thought leaders, discover innovative technology, and learn how to power their business into the next decade. The UK’s number 1 digital retail show combines insightful sessions with practical hands-on training on all aspects of online retailing.

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Keywords: ecommerce, sustainability , retail, omnichannel
Categories: Payments & Commerce
Companies: IRX, Waitrose
Countries: United Kingdom
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Payments & Commerce




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