After a fortnight dominated by a blizzard of Covid, Brexit and US politics, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. For firms this can be intensely frustrating. Right now just running an organisation is hard. The basic logistics of managing people, organising products, and looking after customers is complicated by myriad safety protocols, regulations, and guidance. Retail is in the vanguard of this.

However, while the trials of the moment grab the attention, we can’t ignore the future. To reference the Eisenhower matrix, businesses can’t ignore important challenges just because of the torrent of urgent problems. Even in the midst of Covid we can’t forget the threat climate change poses to humanity. Nor can we ignore that retail, Scotland’s largest private-sector employer, has to play its part.

A green recovery is, in part, a moral imperative. It’s also good business sense. Reducing unnecessary waste reduces costs. The health benefits help both worker productivity and, of course, customers. And it’s something customers want to see – companies taking a clear position on the environment and offering sustainable products. These trends will accelerate.

Retail is one of the most climate-conscious sectors and has led the way, reducing the environmental impact of its own operations and supporting improvements in the supply chain and with customers. Examples include banning microplastics, cutting water usage, removing packaging, and refitting stores to be energy efficient. The industry is committed to delivering a world-class deposit return system for drinks containers. Under our Better Retail Better World initiative, retailers have already cut greenhouse gas emissions by 36 per cent. Those measures are the start of the journey and there is more to do – to ensure collaborative action across the sector, to benchmark performance on sustainability with the highest standards, and to meet net-zero targets.

In that spirit, this week we launched a Climate Action Roadmap for the retail industry. It sets out how the industry can decarbonise by 2040 and gives firms the tools to do so. It’s not an easy route. The 60 retailers which signed up – including Schuh and Scotmid – have committed to put climate action at the heart of their decision making. They need to sustainably source raw materials, decarbonise shops, and operate net-zero logistics.

It’s also about leadership. Scotland’s 230,000 retail workers need help to act as climate ambassadors and live low-carbon lifestyles. It’s the same for customers. Retailers can encourage and make it easier for them to buy more sustainable products, and support businesses which want to do the right thing.

By 2040, the retail experience should feel different. Goods bought from sustainable suppliers, transported through net-zero emissions logistics chains, and sold in stores which aren’t contributing to climate change. Apropos of Henry Ford, you can buy any product you like – as long as it’s green.

It won’t be easy. It will involve immense investment of time and capital. It will require Government to provide a framework for retailers to deliver. That’s not about subsidy, instead it’s a wider commitment to ensure the economy itself grows – which will provide the revenue that can unlock the investment.

There is one more thing – governments across the UK must recognise the seriousness of this work and create the right policy environment and encourage good practice. Retailers accept the need for change – but a lot of the time our members know best how to cut carbon emissions or reduce waste. We need more targets and fewer directives – less direction and more leadership. If that’s provided, and governments across the UK work together with the industry, retail will play its part in delivering a net-zero future.

David Lonsdale is director of the Scottish Retail Consortium