The big downside to retail is that it involves consumers. This fickle, and sometimes annoying, bunch can be a real pain in the neck. Nowhere are they more irritating than when it comes to waste, recycling and anything else to do with saving the planet.

Loads of waste – lovely

They send out so many conflicting messages. In only the past couple of weeks we have seen just how schizophrenic the good old consumer can be. Research from MyVoucherCodes.co.uk showed that 63% of Britons wanted brands to reduce packaging. And a hefty 72% expressed ‘concern’ over the amount of packaging used by grocery brands.

This looked like great news for the environment. But then this was followed by the disappointing news that Cadbury would not be repeating its 2009 trial of using sustainable cardboard boxes for its Christmas tins of Roses. These reduced packaging waste by 45% but were deeply unpopular. Apparently the tin is too much of a festive tradition for shoppers to replace it with crappy cardboard.

One of these or a planet? It’s an easy choice.

None of our supposedly environmentally conscious consumers was in the slightest bit interested in saving the planet at Christmas it seemed – unlike dogs, planet-saving appears to only be for other times of the year.

This example highlights how there is such a massive divergence in what customers say and what they actually do. They have for many years spouted off about the environment being high up their agendas but there is so much hard evidence to suggest the contrary for the vast majority of the consuming British public.

I wonder what this hypocritical bunch (you can tell I’m not a retailer) would have made of the brouhaha this past week over Sainsbury’s and its excessively packaged Taste the Difference beef roasting joint. The supermarket was taken to court  by Trading Standards in Lincolnshire.

The offending excessive packaging – where’s the meat?

The grocery chain was surprised as it argued that it had already reduced the level of packaging on the beef by 53% since February. Since its new reduced look consisted of plastic shrink wrap, a plastic tray, a plastic lid, and a cardboard sleeve I wonder what exactly its former planet-wrecking packaging could possibly have also included? 

This week Sainsbury’s avoided a court showdown by volunteering to reduce the packaging on its beef. But this came on the same day that the grocer’s retail and logistics director Roger Burnley was telling delegates at the IGD Convention 2010 in London that the council had listened to Sainsbury’s argument that less packaging caused more food wastage and that the councillors had agreed with it. Oh really.

I think the only conclusion to be drawn from all this is that when it comes to sustainability then both consumers and retailers are just a little too schizophrenic to make much sense.