Co-operative Group prioritises water use with new 30% reduction goal

The Co-operative Group has set itself a new target to reduce water consumption across its operations by 30% by 2016, using 2010 as a baseline year. Scroll down for full report.

The organisation has been working to measure its water use more accurately in order to reduce direct consumption, and now has metered water bill data for 3,959 locations across its business.

While total estimated water consumption across the Co-operative Group estate has reduced by 7% since 2010, estimated average consumption per site remained static in 2013. There was also a 5% increase in consumption overall due to an increase in the number of sites5.

The company’s food stores account for 62% of total water use – last year it invested nearly £80,000 in the installation of 308 water management systems and 3,777 WC flush controls across 1,909 of these outlets.

“By identifying and repairing supply leaks and faulty equipment at five locations, we could further reduce water consumption by over 18,000 cubic metres each year,” the company’s 2013 sustainability report notes.

Supply chain water reduction initiatives are also being undertaken, specifically at Co-operative farms. Combining computer models with in-field soil measurements has enabled the precise needs of potato crops at different stages of growth to be assessed to ensure the most efficient use of water. The company is also looking to identify opportunities to increase water recycling at its packhouse in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Food waste and packaging innovation are two other areas where the Co-operative Group has made good progress over the past 12 months. By analysing product sales across its food retail stores, the company identified a number of product lines that that were underselling and generating significant waste in certain stores.

More than 100,000 of these underperforming store/product combinations were duly removed from the stores’ ordering system in 2013, saving 1,093 tonnes of food waste – this equated to £12.8m in cost savings.

For 2014, the company is looking to work more closely with industry and the British Retail Consortium to develop a standard method for measuring and reporting on food waste generated within food retail.

In terms of packaging, wine bottles have been redesigned, building on previous lightweighting work. In 2013 the organisation reduced the weight of bottles across 20 of our own-brand wines, resulting in annual savings of 648 tonnes of glass from its supply chain.

Between 2009 and 2012, The Co-operative Food has achieved a 32% reduction in the carbon impact of own-brand packaging. Last year it achieved a 5% reduction in the weight of own brand packaging compared to 2012.

In 2013, 72% of total waste across the business was reused or recycled compared to 59% in 2012. Last year the company completed a project to introduce backhauling of waste from 2,800 food stores – as a result, all stores now send virtually zero waste to landfill.

The Co-operative Group estimates the initiative will save 225,000 skip collections every year by collecting waste from just 11 depots, and says it has halved the waste bill for its food business from over £5m a year to around £2m.

The Co-operative: Protecting the Environment

Maxine Perella

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