Why It Matters

Buying into green practices

The retail industry has gone into a frenzy, with major players being asked by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) to declare that they do not sell products from five companies under probe for their possible links to the haze-causing forest and peatland fires in Indonesia.

Among the five is Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company. Retailers that stocked APP products had to decide if they would pull them off their shelves. On Tuesday, NTUC FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Prime Supermarket did.

The move taken by the SEC is not perfect. Some say it is jumping the gun as government investigations are still under way and APP has not yet been found guilty.

But the SEC has certainly galvanised a movement among consumers here. A Straits Times street poll on Thursday found that many would not buy from companies linked to the haze.

While there have been previous calls to boycott products from companies linked to slash-and-burn practices whenever the haze hits, the SEC's move has made retailers sit up and take action.

As FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng said, the sourcing of sustainable products will take on an increasing importance for both retailers and suppliers.

Retailers need to take a closer look at their merchandising processes, including what brands to carry. How about giving priority to distributors of sustainable products? After all, businesses do have the power to stock more of such products, display them prominently, and market them more vigorously. Retailers could also put up signs to educate consumers about sustainability marks, such as the Singapore Green Label and the Forest Stewardship Council trademark.

Signing that SEC declaration form is a signal to consumers of a retailer's commitment to higher environmental standards. What they must do next is to turn commitment into sustainable action.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Buying into green practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe