Report: UK retailers surpassing carbon reduction commitments early

A group of more than 25 of the UK's largest retailers have collectively reduced their absolute carbon footprint by more than one-third (36%) since 2005, a new study has found.

Carried out by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) as part of its ‘Better Retail, Better World’ campaign, the study explored the emissions reduction, water management and waste reduction efforts of 27 big-name UK retailers, including the likes of John Lewis Partnership, Ikea and Fenwick.

It concluded that the group has reduced its collective, absolute carbon emissions by 36%, as of the end of 2018 – surpassing the ‘Better Retail, Better World’ target of a 25% reduction by 2020. This figure was calculated against a 2005 baseline.

A large proportion of this progress was accounted for by efforts to decarbonise energy, with this specific part of the group’s footprint down 67% in the same timeframe. A further key progress area was deliveries to stores, where collective, absolute emissions were down 47%, also in the same 13-year period.

Nonetheless, slower progress was recorded across efforts to decarbonise refrigeration and transport. Supermarket members of the BRC’s initiative – Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – have collectively reduced emissions from refrigeration by 55% since 2005, putting them off-track to meet a 2020 target of 80%.

According to the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs, fridges at food retailers account for between 3% and 6% of the UK’s total electricity consumption. Moreover, older fridges and freezers produce high levels of fluorinated gases (F-gases).

A recent report found that European retailers are behind schedule to implement natural refrigerants into operations, with the average supermarket refrigeration system thought to leak up to a quarter of its refrigerant charge annually –  the equivalent of more than 1,500 metric tonnes of carbon emissions.

Nonetheless, there are notable examples of retailers committing to phase-out F-gases. Aldi UK has invested £20m in natural refrigerants across all of its stores – a move which could see its potential annual refrigerant gas carbon emissions cut by 99% – while the likes of AsdaWaitrose and Sainsbury’s are using F1-inspired technology to steer cold air directly back down fridge units to stop it from spilling out onto the aisles.

While praising this progress, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson also urged retailers to up their low-carbon ambitions and actions in the wake of the Government’s declaration of a ‘Climate Emergency’.

“It is ever more important for businesses to unite to tackle these global challenges,” Dickinson said.

“While we can see significant progress being made, we should not underestimate the scale of the challenge before us. The public wants to know that the food they eat, the clothes they wear and the goods they buy, are ethically made and responsibly sourced. Better Retail Better World brings together retailers to collaboratively play their part in creating a sustainable future.”

Dickson’s comments come shortly after a survey of more than 1,800 UK retailers found that two-thirds believe it will take three years or more to transform their business models, processes, operations and products for holistic sustainability.

Sarah George


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