Tesco: Behaviour change will 'always have a place' in energy efficiency

As the fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution continue to re-shape how business operates, many companies are now turning to digital technologies for all of their energy reduction schemes. But for Tesco, behaviour change will always be a "key" piece of the energy management puzzle.

During the first year of Tesco's Energy Matters scheme, more than 20,000 bakery and hot counter staff were trained

During the first year of Tesco's Energy Matters scheme, more than 20,000 bakery and hot counter staff were trained

With a UK-wide estate of more than 3,400 stores – from 24-hour superstores with bakeries and hot food counters, to Express stores catering to those on-the-go – as well as 20+ distribution centres and dozens of offices, managing the energy use of Britain’s largest supermarket is no mean feat.

And as Tesco strives to meet its overarching goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, made under its 1.5C-aligned set of science-based emissions reductions targets, energy efficiency will play a crucial role in decoupling business growth from emissions.

To that end, the supermarket has invested in several energy-saving technologies in recent months and years, including refrigerators with low global warming potential (GWP) ratings, which are set to reduce the chain’s total direct carbon emissions by 40% against a 2006 baseline.

With such impressive results to be reaped through technology-led schemes, you’d be forgiven for assuming that firms like Tesco would now hand over the majority of their energy-saving measures to machines. But according to Tesco’s energy manager Rebecca Douglas, engaging employees to drive behaviour change that reduces the retailer’s energy use will “always” have a place in the retailer’s sustainability strategy, regardless of how many new technologies become available.

Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of her appearance at edie Live next month (scroll down for details), Douglas gave an update on the company’s ‘Energy Matters’ scheme, which requires all staff across Tesco’s Bakery and Hot Counter shopping area to receive training on how and when to turn heated appliances off in order to achieve maximum energy efficiency while maintaining product output.

Launched in late 2017, the scheme has seen energy management become “embedded” in the day-to-day jobs of bakers and Hot Counter staff. Energy reduction is now included in job descriptions in these fields, with best practice being taught both at the induction stage and through regular training modules.

To date, the programme has cut the energy consumption of Tesco’s bakeries by 9%, with Douglas attributing its success to its ongoing nature and holistic framing of energy efficiency.

“Energy saving can feel like an extra piece of work, but by adding it to meetings and processes that already exist, it becomes more embedded, which helps to keep it alive,” she told edie.

“Previous behaviour change programmes we’ve run have been standalone, meaning that they didn’t really catch on with staff. Plus, we found that when the person driving these schemes left, it ground to a bit of a halt. We’ve therefore found that one of the most important things has been building energy management techniques into business-as-usual processes.”

Bakeries and Hot Counters were chosen for the scheme as they are departments where Tesco is not always able to take remote control of devices, Douglas added, meaning that the risk of human-led energy waste – and conversely, the opportunities for human-led energy savings – are high in these areas.

Nonetheless, the Energy Matters campaign has also reached Tesco colleagues in other areas, including Fresh Leads and head office workers as well as store directors and regional directors. Going forward, the supermarket will be including maintenance staff as well. 

See you data

A further key component of the Energy Matters scheme is that it provides Tesco staff with concrete evidence that their altered behaviour does have a positive financial and environmental impact. 

Under the programme, the management team at each store and distribution centre is provided with a regular report on the facility’s energy use, detailing any changes to the previous reporting period. Bakers additionally have access to energy use and product output data recorded at half-hour intervals, enabling them to track their own personal progress.

The benefit of “giving visibility to data”, according to Douglas, is twofold – it encourages friendly competition and creates accountability.

“When we were designing the scheme, we found there was a lack of awareness of how much energy certain behaviours waste,” she said.

“Recording and reporting on that waste, as if it were any other waste stream, is therefore really important – and I feel like it also creates a sense of competition both between stores and within store bakery teams, while creating ownership and accountability too.”

While some organisations have used prizes for good behaviours to instil a sense of competition among staff, including those taking part in Green Rewards’ JUMP scheme, Douglas noted that Tesco had chosen not to – largely due to its framing of energy saving as an expected day-to-day task for all employees. Stores and teams which perform particularly well in this space are instead given shout-outs in internal communications, making them aware that head office staff have noticed their work.

A replicable model?

The Energy Matters scheme – which combines top-down training, mentor-mentee relationships, digital tracking and gamification – has delivered sizeable results for Tesco. But, could it work for other companies, both within and outside of the retail sector?

According to Douglas, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

“I think that if you embed it into business-as-usual processes and get buy-in from all the key people, making sure that the results of the actions are made visible to the right people, a scheme like this could be successful in any business,” she concluded.

“Behaviour change definitely still has its place in our business and in business more widely. Any company, big or small, can run an energy engagement programme.”  


Tesco at edie Live

Tesco’s energy manager Rebecca Douglas will be appearing on the energy theatre at edie Live next month (21-22 May 2019), as part of a panel discussion on behaviour change. Taking place at 12.45pm on Day One of the event, the debate will see Douglas discuss the relationship between technology-led and person-led energy efficiency schemes with experts from the Sustainable Energy Association, Vodafone Group, JRP Solutions and Capgemini. 

The session is just one of many taking place across four theatres during the two-day show, which is edie’s biggest of the year and a highlight in the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals. Under the theme of “turning ambition into ACTION”, we will be bringing attendees the inspiration and solutions needed to achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their organisation.

Register for your free edie Live 2019 pass here.


Sarah George



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