Five major UK supermarkets pledge to halve food system's environmental impact by 2030

The chief executives of Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and the Co-op have signed a new joint commitment to halve the nature and climate impacts of food systems by 2030.

Image: Tesco and WWF

Image: Tesco and WWF

The new ‘Retailers’ Commitment to Nature’ pledge is orchestrated by WWF and is being launched to mark Nature Day at COP26.

On climate, the signatories commit to setting 1.5C-aligned science-based targets by the end of 2022. On nature, there is a commitment to halt degradation this decade.

There are also commitments to halve the environmental impact of supply chains and upstream activities where the food sector has a significant nature, including deforestation and land-use conversion, marine stewardship, land stewardship, sustainable diets, food waste and packaging. There is a 2030 deadline for this commitment.

WWF will ask the supermarkets to report on progress in each of these areas at least annually, directly to itself and publicly. The NGO has highlighted its previous research tying the agri-food system to more than 30% of global emissions to date and almost two-thirds of nature loss.

Also included in the pledge is a promise to prioritise conservation and restoration in the most affected areas including rainforests.

“Globally, the food system is also the leading cause of biodiversity loss and a key contributor of climate change - and so it must be part of the solution,” the pledge wording states.

“As chief executives of leading UK food retailers, we recognise that a future without nature is a future without food.”

Co-op Group’s chief executive Steve Murrells added: “The food industry is central in co-operating for a fairer, more responsible world to reduce the negative impact of our operations on the environment.

“Collectively we are facing huge challenges and the future of food globally is at risk if we don’t act together to drive positive change. This year, we unveiled our comprehensive Ten-Point Climate Plan to address our impacts across our business and beyond, but no business can solve this crisis alone.”

Past steps, next steps

The supermarkets signing on to the commitment today (6 November) represent more than half of the UK’s individual food shoppers, so WWF believes it has the ability to engage millions of families and to help them reduce their own footprints. Other retailers will be encouraged to join the initiative in the coming months.

Tesco has already been working with WWF since 2018 in a bid to halve the environmental impact of the average shopping basket this decade. As of September 2020, an 11% reduction had been achieved. However, the supermarket has been facing pressure to reach an anti-deforestation supply chain for animal feed sooner, from groups including Greenpeace.

Business ambition

The WWF pledge is part of a broader initiative, in which around 100 UK businesses have made a joint commitment to deliver ‘nature positive’ operations by the end of the decade. The commitment is being coordinated by the UNFCCC and the UK’s COP26 unit.

Other businesses involved in the commitment include OVO Energy, Severn Trent and Burberry, the latter of which is publishing a new biodiversity strategy this week. Burberry’s new commitments include ensuring that all key materials are 100% traceable to source by 2025, as well as increasing the sourcing of recycled materials and leather, cotton and wool certified as sustainable.

The 100 businesses are convening through the Science-Based Targets for Nature initiative. SBTs for corporate emissions have existed for several years now, and nature targets are expected next year. 

Refill update 

In related news, the Co-op has partnered with Unilever to trial refillable packaging models in two of its stores in Huddersfield and Codsall. 

Customers will be able to buy health, beauty and home products in reusable stainless steel bottles, with Co-op set to pilot pre-filled bottles as well as in-store refill machines. Brands on offer include Persil, Radox, Simple and Alberto Balsam. 

Co-op's head of format development Ian McCutcheon said the trials are "designed to test and learn from consumer behaviour, while providing easy and quick ways for them to cut their plastic consumption". 

Unilever is already trialling its pre-filled stainless steel bottles in several Asda stores

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from COP26 with edie's Live Blog. 

Sarah George


| cop26 | Retail | Food & drink


CSR & ethics | New business models

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