Is Boots' new ‘wellness store’ sophisticated greenwashing?
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
Have you heard of A Plastic Planet? It’s a fantastic organisation led by Sian Sutherland. Their single goal – “to ignite and inspire the world to Turn off the Plastic Tap”. I follow A Plastic Planet on Linkedin and one of their posts popped up in my feed last week. My immediate emotional reaction to this particular post was to recoil. The article was an emphatic congratulatory message to the brand Boots for providing free water to their customers.
Why did I recoil? First, I'm not a fan of the use of overly emphatic language when a huge, corporate brand does something remotely positive. Second, are they paying their taxes yet? And third, people in an office somewhere had a conversation about this water refill station. What was their real motivation?
However, I am trying to be a little more tolerant of positive shifts by corporates and I respect what A Plastic Planet stands for. So off I went to Google to search 'Boots UK water refill station'. Google kindly presented me with an article from the London Evening Standard. Within two seconds of opening the article, there was that recoil feeling again!
“The first 200 people in the store get a goodie bag” is the sub headline. A quick scroll down and it's clear it wasn’t a reusable bag filled with environmentally conscious products to help move people to more sustainable choices.
Instead, the people at Boots UK’s decided that their new flagship wellness store, complete with water refill station would welcome their first 200 customers with a goodie bag filled with so called ‘hero products’. Products from Josh Wood, Urban Decay, Bybi, NO7 and "many more". Many more landfill products made from plastics and filled with chemicals? The exception on this list is Bybi who do have Sustainability on their agenda – great to see. But even better than that is our very own Scottish brand - Beauty Kitchen, offering refills of their products – a brand that really does have sustainability at their heart and soul who show true leadership.
Back to the Rehydration station – love the name by the way. The article shows an image of said Station positioned next to a fridge full of convenience food and drinks. A fridge chock full of plastic bottles. And alongside the water station? Shelves filled with completely unnecessary, but very sales and profit focused products like Berocca.
And this is why I find it so difficult to be approving of the beautifully named Rehydration Station. It feels like sophisticated greenwashing and makes my centre of gravity shift sideways. I'd like that fridge to have no water available to buy at all. Perhaps even empty shelves where the water would have been and aluminium cans to offer sweet options. Alongside this 'Did You Know' type Point of Sale communicating they why:
“We don’t sell water in plastic bottles anymore. The team at Boots UK have made the bold move to protect you and our planet by removing all water sold in single use plastic bottles. And only aluminium cans of sugary options as aluminium is endlessly recyclable. We want you to enjoy refilling your own bottle with free water from out Rehydration Station – look to your right if you haven’t already seen it.”
We also learn that Boots UK will be removing plastic bags from their stores by 2020. However they’ll be replacing them with paper ones. This isn’t the answer. Make your customers bring their own bags. This is a simple decision that is not difficult to make and implement. And would save Boots UK the cost to buying bags that people don’t need.
Positive aspects of the store – vegan wellness, eco friendly sanitary protection, and high sugar snacks and energy drinks not included in the meal deal (I’d like to extend that to single use plastic bottles please). Why is this latter initiative only applicable to wellness stores? I digress.
This wellness store is a clear reaction to Holland and Barrett and the need for Boots to innovate and to at least try to take steps to help the planet. Whilst I appreciate a machine of this size will be bound by supply chains and processes, this wellness store was the first of it’s kind and an opportunity to implement real change and let go of the brands that don’t have a sustainable bone in their brand body. Instead, the people at Boots UK have chosen to dip their toe in the microplastic polluted waters with a mere nod to sustainability.
It’s not surprising really as sustainability is not part of the inherent values of Boots UK. For me, the water station is far from 'amazing' – it’s merely a step in the right direction and a way to gently introduce the High Street to a more sustainable way of life. For all you refillers out there, at least if you’re in Covent Garden, you know where to take your water bottle when it’s empty…