While Sir Terry Leahy's comments on "woefully low" education standards made front page news, his IGD speech reminded me of a secondhand car, polished up to look new.

And it was Sir Terry's oldest saying not about education but about Tesco always following the consumer that received the most interesting new coat of paint.

I've always felt there was something slightly disingenuous about claiming you follow the consumer. As Henry Ford once said: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." And in the same way, Tesco hasn't slavishly followed its customers; it's led them in directions they didn't even know existed, and it's been to their enormous credit that they have.

The new coat of paint, however, was delivered when Sir Terry considered the issue of climate change. Sir Terry was one of a number of speakers at the conference banging on about the importance of sustainability. A poll of the delegates put the environment second on the list of eight concerns among these senior industry leaders, with depleting resources third.Conversely, when the IGD asked consumers to rank the issues, the environment scored fifth and depleting resources was last.

So, should the industry follow the consumer, as Sir Terry always advises, or its own nose? It's surely with business just as much as the customer in mind that Tesco is considering sustainability (think of the fines, the legislation), just as when the industry reformulates a biscuit or cake despite, in a poll of 60,000 customers, one manufacturer saying not a single customer had ticked the box for a reduction in fat.

So what did Sir Terry have to say? "Consumers are the great untapped source. They need our help. We need to make green cool." So there you have it. Sir Terry advocating Swampy as a role model. And people say he's boring. 

Sir Terry criticising education standards hints at defection (17/10/09)
Leahy slams ‘woeful’ UK schools (14/10/09)