Sustainability, multi-channel retailing and the ‘global customer revolution’ dominated discussions when the World Retail Congress advisory board met in Paris to help shape the agenda for next year.

Members of the congress advisory board, including Bernie Brookes (Myer), Ian Cheshire (B&Q), David Shriver (Carrefour), Andrew Jennings (Woolworths S.A), Marty Wikstrom (Atelier Management LLC) and Greg Sage (Tesco) came together to identify the issues that are currently driving discussion in the boardrooms of retailers across the globe, and will be tackled when the World Retail Congress meets in Barcelona from 9-11 April 2008.

During the meeting, much emphasis was placed on the importance of the sustainability debate, particularly in relation to energy policies, ethical sourcing and sustainable materials. This will now form a key theme of the congress, and so provide an important opportunity for the world’s retail leaders to debate the many issues surrounding the complex topic with international policy makers. 

The advisory board went so far as to recommend that the congress seeks to identify a number of ‘sustainability pledges’ during the debate, which would be endorsed by delegates and so form a set of global benchmarks for best practice.

"The issue of sustainability and how retailers can make it deliver to the triple bottom line is going to become an ever increasing challenge,” said Bernie Brookes, CEO of Myer.

This view was endorsed by, Ian Cheshire, CEO of home improvement retailer B&Q.

“Sustainability has become a serious business issue for retailers, because the consumer has come to place far greater value on it than ever before," he adds.

It was agreed that the topic of multi-channel retailing, which last year featured on the congress program as a business stream, had grown in importance over the last year. As a direct consequence, the issue will now be elevated to form the basis of one of the event’s main plenary sessions.

The changing demands of today’s consumer, or the ‘global customer revolution’ was also highlighted as a major concern for retailers and will be addressed by the congress, not only through discussion at a main plenary session, but also with the launch of ground-breaking new research at the event.

The advisory board meeting marked the first in a series of discussions with key industry figures that will help the congress to identify and tackle issues that could act as a barrier to growth in the global retail economy, as well as providing a forum for the sector to share knowledge and highlight examples of best practice.

Key industry figures including Gilbert Harrison, chairman of Financo, Inc, Steve Sadove, CEO of Saks, Inc and Rick Darling, president of Li & Fung USA will join the next round of discussions when the congress organisers again meet with the sector in Sao Paolo, Brazil on 3 October and in New York on 5 October 2007.