John Lewis, a force for good in retail

John Lewis, a force for good in retail

Ben Thomas is the Resource Efficiency Sustainability Manager at John Lewis. We sat down recently to talk about sustainability in the world of retail. It was a cold but sunny morning chat over coffee at Timmy Green’s café in Victoria, under a canopy of greenery and display of Tala bulbs. How fitting.

Ben works in a team of ten to engage the right groups internally (namely the buying and design teams) and engages in industry groups externally to make sure John Lewis is one step ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable innovation.

​“…you can develop the sustainability of a product over time and grow demand for it. You don’t have to switch to 100% recycled material straight away.” – B.Thomas

How does your role function on a day to day?
I’m heavily involved in brand procurement and John Lewis product development to ensure sustainable sourcing is implemented as much as possible, alongside cost, quality, and performance. I meet daily, weekly, monthly, as much as needed really with our buying and design teams to make sure sustainability is not left as an after-thought.

How many suppliers do you work with?
We work with 1600 factories and 1400 suppliers across 52 different countries. Only about 150 of those suppliers are in the UK. We have very long standing relationships with all of our suppliers and it’s important that we engage them on our sustainability journey and work with them towards a common goal.

What do you think is the most exciting innovation in sustainability?
Circular economy. We have great aspirations to introduce circularity into our business models and are well on our way to reintroduce waste streams into our value chain. We have take-back schemes for mattresses, sofas, and electrical appliances to either reuse or recycle. We also have a program to upcycle off-cuts from our carpets into underlay. At the moment I’m working with our IT team to develop an app to facilitate the take-back service.

​The commitment of several large UK retailers (including John Lewis) to the Sustainable Development Goals was recently published, what does that mean to you?

The announcement was made public recently through the British Retail Consortium, however, we’ve been in line with the SDGs for a while. We align to these larger goals through target setting around energy, resource, and waste efficiency. We are audited to those targets and report the results annually.

How does sustainability infuse into the work culture at John Lewis?

John Lewis is a very supportive environment for its employees. It is an employee-owned business and has been under constitutional principles set out by the founder nearly 100 years ago. The first of these principles is the happiness of the partners. Internally that translates into personal development programs, clubs and associations, in-house physio… there’s a lot of support available!

It sounds like a great place to work! Thanks for your time Ben. Pop-in to John Lewis in store or online to see our collections in the flesh, and start your journey to make your home more sustainable.

Written by Nikki Kapp, Sustainability Manager
Content taken by Issey Rider, Community Manager