Sustainability focus: Sky Ocean Rescue cafe

Welcome to our section of the site which focuses on the sustainable side of retail. It’s exciting times for anyone involved in this area as technology and retailers try to keep up with customers’ demand for all things ethical.  From palm oil to fur farms, fast fashion to single-use plastic, excess packaging to food waste – this is where the real action is.

Lunch without plastic

In a nutshell: The café at Sky Central in Isleworth has just launched and continues Sky’s quest to become a plastic-free business by 2020. The story of its development is a guide on how it is possible to take the consumer on the sustainable journey rather than foisting it on them.


On 4th November sports pundit and now thanks to his children anti-plastic fan, Jamie Redknapp, along with a giant whale-shaped cake, launched the Sky Ocean Rescue café in the Sky Central building, part of the vast Sky complex in Isleworth, west London. Sky Central receives 250,000 visits each year and all the visitors and staff using the café will now be able to do so in the knowledge that it has both been designed and functions with no virgin plastic at all.

Jamie Redknapp makes a personal commitment to stop using plastic bags in the pledge area

Fiona Ball, Sky head of inspirational business, told Retail Insider that the main challenge of the project has been to fully take the employees on board as the café developed. The end results are impressive and are the next stage in the goal of being a leading innovator in eradicating single-use plastic and plastic waste in the oceans.

Educating people with potentially upsetting images of marine life trapped in plastic waste as they try to eat lunch is a brave move but the café carefully balances its act. The large screens behind the counter show the effects of human action and are coupled with artwork pillars. These are designed to spark conversation and highlight the five main culprits in discarded plastic. Namely water bottles, coffee cups, plastic bags, straws, and lunch-related plastic such as cling-film and cutlery.

On the more uplifting side there is a solutions area – this promotes the things that Sky Ocean Ventures funds such as alternative packaging, recycled plastic in children’s clothing and apps which allow users to determine if packaging is recyclable or not.

The café serving area features a beautiful ‘coral counter’ which is entirely made from 3D printed salvaged plastic to highlight the damage being done to coral reefs while table sleeves manufactured out of discarded fishing net plastic gives more information on the café and how it was created.

One of the five artwork pillar highlighting pollution’s main culprits

So much for the education, you might ask, but what about the food? Crucially being in such a huge campus set away from any local shops or amenities with 33,000 employees on site a lot of the innovations at the café are put on a captive audience.

For example every Sky employee is given a reusable metal bottle from its own range of celebrity-designed cans. This step alone removed the purchase of 500,000 plastic bottles per annum. “People used to forget their bottles in the beginning and get a bit disgruntled” says Fiona Ball, “but now they get it, it’s become second nature and there are refill stations all over the place”.

Yogurt is no longer served in plastic pots but glass jars – and employees can just leave them at their desks and they will be collected, washed and filled again. No plastic cutlery/crockery is available and items like biscuits and cakes are stored in large glass jars or wooden boxes.

Ball stresses that the café is not fixated on using recycled plastic: “The whole waste infrastructure in the UK is not geared up to recycling plastic. And we don’t even use biodegradable plastic.” The emphasis is more on avoiding it in the first place.  

But again this can lead to problems with consumers such as when some sorts of food was taken out of its cellophane covering and put in other forms of packaging. “There was a slight issue with visibility around what people were buying” she admits, as people do like to see what it is they are purchasing and plastic is very good at that. In the end she believes people need to realise that reducing plastic does not always mean “finding a like-for-like product but finding completely new ways of doing things”.

The coral counter in the Sky Ocean Rescue Café

There is absolutely no doubt that Sky sets a lot of store by its plastic-free status. Entering Sky Central the café takes centre stage along with the other central pillars of Sky’s corporate identity – Sky Cinema and Sky News. It is used as a microcosm for other brands to come and learn from, and for other retailers – for example Waitrose, which has a shop on campus – to trial innovations in. “We’re not asking for big changes” concludes Fiona Ball “but with small simple steps you can take people along with you”.