Richard Walker—son of Malcolm Walker, the founder and executive chairman of Iceland Foods—was destined to join the family business. After starting out as a shelf-stacker in 2012, he’s now the managing director for the British supermarket chain.
Despite his successful senior leadership role, Richard often grappled with the idea that his personal legacy wouldn’t be sufficient. “The root cause of this crisis of confidence was that as ‘Walker Junior’, I had some pretty large shoes to fill,” he says in his new book, The GreenGrocer: One Man’s Manifesto for Corporate Activism, now available for purchase or download. “Trying to emulate my Dad was sure to end in disaster. So how on earth was I going to make my own mark?”
But in January 2020, he was able to meet with his “all-time favourite hero”—Sir David Attenborough (we can’t argue there). This, coupled with his own love for the natural world, set Walker on the path to making meaningful change for the planet. This Aha! moment also led him to write a book about methods for best disrupting the business sector’s damaging environmental policies.
In The Green Grocer, Walker discusses how running a for-profit business doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment. He also talks about how businesses can be part of the solution to the climate crisis and discusses his own business and leadership philosophy.
“One that is based on looking far beyond short-term profit: setting seemingly impossible goals and single-mindedly pursuing them,” he says. “Coping with the many internal and external challenges that will inevitably be encountered along the way; and focusing on the long-term benefits for business, community and the planet.”
Iceland Foods Tackles Climate Change
Known for its frozen food products, Iceland Foods (which is a distribution partner of LIVEKINDLY parent company, The LIVEKINDLY Collective, and its portfolio of plant-based meat brands) was founded in 1970. It now has more than 800 stores throughout the UK.
From launching a campaign against deforestation—ending the use of palm oil in products—to restricting single-use plastic usage, Walker has led the company’s sustainability policies since 2017. “I was clear that I needed to set out an agenda that was not just about planetary, but business and individual sustainability as well,” he says.
But, he notes, Iceland isn’t perfect in its pursuit of being a sustainable company. “One of the great contradictions of the very concept of ‘sustainable capitalism,’ is that businesses exist to produce stuff and encourage the consumption of it,” he says. “We are a mass market, high volume food retailer subject to many contradictions. We are far from perfect. But what we can do, however, is seek to minimise our footprint wherever possible.”
The Importance of Corporate Activism
Walker outlines other sustainable initiatives he leads through his corporate activism, such as reducing food waste and overall carbon footprint. He also discusses actionable steps businesses—and individuals—can take to make a difference.
These include fully understanding your environmental impact and advocating for systemic change from the top, down. He also calls on governments to make better policy decisions framed around mitigating the climate crisis and other environmental concerns.
Overall, Walker notes that corporate activism can help bridge the gap between purpose and profit. And he believes that technological advances and the unsilent majority—the Greta Thunbergs of the world—will help hold “sustainable businesses” accountable.