John Lewis targets ‘throwaway’ culture with £1m ideas fund

The owner of John Lewis and Waitrose are launching a £1m fund that will channel cash into projects with the potential to end the high street’s “throwaway” culture.

The John Lewis Partnership is inviting academics, charities and start-ups that have ideas with the potential to reduce the environmental impact of the food, clothing and gadgets we buy, to pitch for a share of the money. The fund is aimed at identifying “innovators” that are challenging the industry’s outdated “make … use … throw away” model.

Marija Rompani, the group’s director of ethics and sustainability, said that tackling the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution required a “different kind of thinking”.

“We live in a world of finite materials and we need to start protecting them before it’s too late,” she said. “This is why we’re particularly looking for projects that are regenerative and can eliminate waste or pollution from the design stage.”

The Circular Future Fund is focused on food, textiles and household products. Winning ideas could have the answer to food waste in the supply chain or consumers’ homes, or, with the fashion industry a big polluter, a more sustainable production method or material.

John Lewis, which raised the £1m from the sale of 10p plastic bags in stores, said it hoped to unearth “scalable” ideas that could be shared and in doing so accelerate the transition towards a more circular economy.

High street retailers have already begun adapting their traditional models. Ikea, the UK’s biggest furniture retailer, now has a scheme to buy back unwanted items to resell as part of its efforts to shift towards a circular model. Marks & Spencer disclosed last week that a small selection of its clothes could now be hired from the rental website Hirestreet.

Applications for the John Lewis fund, which will be divvied out in grants of £150,000 to £300,000, will close on 9 January 2022. Bids are being invited from academia, charities, social enterprises and businesses that are less than five years old. An independent panel will review them in March with the grants awarded the following month.



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