Sustainability brings opportunity for the garden industry at Cultivating Retail

With sustainability as the underlying theme of the day the key messages to come from the quality line up of speakers at the Cultivating Retail Conference held on 19 November in Nottingham included:

  • The garden industry is well placed to offer solutions that help mitigate the impact of climate change and shape the implementation of the Government’s 25-year environment plan.
  • The actions of individuals and businesses can make a real difference.
  • Sustainability is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ but an essential and integral component of modern business.
  • The industry needs to provide a unified approach to address the positive challenges and opportunities that sustainability presents.

The conference, sponsored by Evergreen, brought together representatives from across the industry. With movements such as Extinction Rebellion rising to the fore and each political party vying for the green vote these changing times show environmental concerns have become mainstream. Consumers expect more from businesses and expect them to operate in a sustainable manner.

Following an introduction from conference host, Daisy McAndrew, HTA Futures and Sustainability Manager David Denny started the day by asking whilst concern for the environment is loud now, and rightly so, is it long-lasting? Dave discussed areas of climate change such as rainfall and global warming and some of the ways in which this will affect the industry. With 1 in 4 consumers strongly agreeing that businesses should be penalised for failing to care for the environment companies cannot afford to do anything. Whilst younger generations are still the ones that shout loudly about how much they care for the environment, it is now a global issue across age groups.

In conversation with HTA President Boyd Douglas-Davies Dr. David Bek, Sustainability Economist from Coventry University spoke about the positives that the industry brings in terms of producing plant material and products that store and convert carbon. ‘With a changing climate, there is a real opportunity to adapt and challenge our approach to gardening embracing the more chaotic style of nature creating a new normal. The horticulture industry needs to be bold, innovative and nimble and connect with consumers to make a substantive impact on biodiversity and climate change’, said Dr. Bek.

Mark Glover, Newington Communications, gave attendees an overall view on sustainability, the 25-year Environment Plan, and how this will affect consumers. The Environmental Bill calls for using a ‘national capital’ approach to protecting and enhancing the environment, introducing a principle of ‘environmental net gain’ into planning decisions and achieving zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. Mark then went through the green pledges of the key political parties. A strong and vibrant horticultural industry is vital in underpinning the government's political pledges and the industry has a huge role to play in reaching Net-Zero.

Looking at how garden industry businesses are diversifying Guy Topping from the Barton Grange Group shared the story of their ‘Flowerbowl’ development. After deciding to go down the leisure route they now have an entertainment centre including 3 cinema screens, eight lanes of ten pin bowling, an 18-hole crazy golf course complete with a retractable roof, a four-sheet curling rink, two golf simulators along with supporting catering facilities. The Flowerbowl sits well alongside the garden centre offering bringing different customers into the two facilities at different times of the day and week.

Bringing synergies from the takeaway sector, Graham Corfield, Chief Operating Officer for Just Eat, highlighted that ‘whilst sustainability is a big planet issue individuals and communities can make a real difference as all actions add up to help change consumer behaviour.’ One of the key ways in which Just Eat is looking at reducing the amount of plastic waste that they create as an industry is by using sauce packets made of seaweed which are 100% biodegradable. If all plastic bottles right now were replaced with seaweed, only 0.5% of the seaweed supply available would be used.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco. He said that ‘sustainability brings new business opportunities for the garden industry to respond four-sheet. With changing weather patterns, increasing emphasis on biosecurity and provenance garden centres are better placed and more relevant than many high street retail outlets to meet consumer demand as they provide the solutions for many of these issues.’ Sir Terry mentioned how we need to make clear the vital role that the industry plays, the plans that we have and then use this to challenge the government.

Delegates then took part in ‘hot seat’ sessions on topics including biosecurity, growing media, plastics, labour and skills, technology, energy, and water.

HTA’s Policy Manager Sally Cullimore provided an overview of the Plant Passporting regulations which came into force on 14 December, and the steps businesses need to ensure they are taking to comply. The Plant Health Regulations have been implemented to help ensure traceability throughout the whole plant supply chain and ensure biosecurity within the UK. For more information see about the Plant Passport regulations at

Vicky Nuttall, GIMA Director, gave an overview of GIMA activities highlighting the project they are currently undertaking on single-use flexible plastic packaging. This focussed on bags for growing media, compost, lawncare, fertilisers, aggregates, and wild bird care. This equates to around 14,500 tonnes from GIMA members alone. That’s over 200 million bags of various sizes and weights each year which represents only 4% of all flexible plastic packaging within the UK. The project is still very much a work in progress, but they are looking at how to eliminate problem plastics from the supply chain.

Addressing conference delegates HTA Chairman James Barnes provided an overview of the HTA’s reviewed business strategy making it more relevant and engaged moving forward as outlined in the HTA Annual Review – James commented that ‘it has never been so important to come together as an industry to present a unified approach to demonstrate how we can provide solutions to help mitigate the impact of climate change.’ He added, ‘The HTA has an opportunity and responsibility to help further the industry’s commitment to develop in an environmentally sustainable manner. Our planned environmental sustainability roadmap will enable us to be the central point of policy information for the industry on key topics including water, growing media, plastics, and energy.’

HTA and GIMA would like to thank the event sponsors for their support of the event. 

Gold Partner: Evergreen Garden Care 

Silver Partner: Hozelock 

Dinner Partner: Corby + Fellas 

Partners: Anglia Car Charging, B2B SG Systems, Bord Na Mona, Dura-ID, Easigrass, Easitill, Eight Days A Week Print Solutions, Frobisher’s, GLEE, HTA Utilities, Ideal Lights, MorePeople, Smart Garden Products and Swan Retail. 

Highlighted speakers...


Sir Terry Leahy, former Tesco’s CEO, has a lifetime of experience of retail. He was at the helm when Tesco acquired Dobbies, which gives him a unique perspective on garden retailing. Sir Terry joins us to share his perspectives and experience on horticulture, retail, and how environmental and sustainability trends are set to affect consumers and the demands they make of retailers and brands. He has received many nominations and awards throughout his career, as well as a Knighthood for services to food retailing in the 2002 New Year Honours. 

We are delighted to announce our host for the day is Daisy McAndrew. Daisy was the Special Correspondent for ITV News, having previously served as Economics Editor and Chief Political Correspondent. Formerly Andrew Neil’s co-host on The Daily Politics, Daisy has also presented Heaven & Earth and reported on Westminster for BBC Breakfast. She now co-hosts the mid-morning show on Talkradio discussing the latest headlines and opinions.


As Chief Operating Officer at Just Eat, Graham Corfield is responsible for the commercial performance of Just Eat markets, overseeing and coordinating trading and new business globally.  Graham will be talking about the challenges involved in operating Just Eat - the leading global brand hybrid marketplace for online food delivery. This will include how they are working to eliminate single-use plastic, running a larger operation with many different ‘suppliers’ and the sustainability of business both economically and environmentally.

Our after-dinner speaker has been confirmed as Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards. With little skill for his sport, Olympic skier Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards won the hearts and minds of the public with his heroic failures, and he remains one of the best-loved athletes today; in fact, his life has been depicted in the biographical film Eddie the Eagle (2016), and he has also appeared as the coach on Channel 4 programme 'The Jump'. In the words of the president of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics: "some competitors have won gold; some have broken records and one has even flown like an eagle". 

Planet, People, Profit. These are the ‘Three Ps’ of sustainability in business that Dr David Bek from Coventry University will discuss. He’ll look at how balancing these 'Ps' can create a business model that provides value to all stakeholders in a modern enterprise. As one of the UK’s leading researchers, David’s got a huge insight into how horticulture across the world is responding to the sustainability challenge.

Dave Denny of the HTA will explain the trends set to drive change across the garden industry supply chain. He’ll cover consumer and government expectations on sustainability, and how this will drive demand for new products, services, and stories around gardening. There will be examples of how businesses across the world (horticultural and non-horticultural) are tapping into these trends to increase their competitiveness, resilience and financial sustainability.


What do you get when you cross a leading destination garden centre, a new leisure shopping centre, and a green roof on which sheep will one day graze? The answer’s the Flowerbowl, a leisure destination that taps into consumer demand for eco-friendly, quality leisure shopping. Guy Topping from Barton Grange Garden Centre will share what he's learned from turning the vision into a reality that’s contributing to the environment, quality of life and the financial bottom line. This is must-see inspiration for anyone aiming to make sustainability work for their business.

An outbreak of Xylella Fastidiosa could lead to a total movement ban on plants within a 5-kilometre radius of the outbreak, and that’s just one of many biosecurity risks facing us. The threat to our businesses and the UK landscape is serious and ever more immediate. Alistair Yeomans, Horticultural Consultant, will talk about the Plant Health Management Standard and how adopting Plant Healthy principles helps businesses mitigate threats from pests and diseases.  

For 70 years we’ve used peat and for nearly 40 years we’ve been trying to move away from peat and in that time the reasons as to why we should have changed from protecting the flora and fauna of the peat bogs, to the rather larger point of saving the planet and stopping the release of carbon during the harvesting peat and its after use. Steve Harper, Responsible Sourcing, will discuss what is the industry’s answer to this pressing issue, and what are then obstacles preventing us in quickly achieving this goal?

James Mallick, Pro-Force, has extensive experience of sourcing and managing workforces for major horticulture business and will discuss the challenges around the sustainability of seasonal labour.  His knowledge base encompasses labour availability, a broad breadth of legislation relevant to the recruitment, provision and management of people as well as working on the Seasonal Worker Pilot.


'Sustainability' the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level . When you hear the word sustainability your mind often takes you to environment but it this instance Chris Corby from Corby + Fellas, is looking at the economy of the industry and how technology can benefit your business in the long term. They will open your minds to see how technology  can make your business more sustainable whilst ensuring your business remains viable.

Gardening’s seen by the public as a green industry, and rightly so. But we use an estimated half a billion plastic plant pots. Recent years have seen an increase in artificial (plastic) turf, and much of our packaging is plastic. So how do we address this, and what can one business do? Recoup is a charity and an authority on recycling plastics;  Steve Foster will share ideas and examples of how businesses can improve their plastic positions.

Adam Speed, Head of Communications for the Crop Protection Association (CPA) will be giving an update on garden care chemicals sector and the future of the industry. The CPA represent all the major agricultural chemical companies in the UK.



Kevin Barefoot & Ben Wilby of HTA Utilities, will be talking you through Water and Energy and providing insight into how you can become more sustainable as a business.



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