Sainsbury’s makes clear business case for sustainability

EXCLUSIVE: Behaviour change, on-site generation and smarter systems have helped Sainsbury's reduce its absolute energy consumption by 17% since 2005, whilst growing the business by 46% over the same period.

In relative terms, Sainsbury’s is now using 27% less energy at its stores than it was 10 years ago; putting the supermarket chain well on-track to achieve its target of a 30% absolute reduction in operational carbon emissions by 30% by 2020.

Speaking at the Sustainability Live Conference this week, Sainsbury’s head of sustainability Paul Crewe said these latest figures are “cast iron proof that the business case for sustainability does work”.

“Energy is the second-highest cost outside of wages,” said Crewe. “For us, not being operationally efficient in energy would be commercial suicide. Our energy department now completely understands exactly what’s going on with energy right across the estate.”

Behaviour change

One of Crewe’s biggest sustainability success stories has been behaviour change. The supermarket group, which now employs more than 160,000 members of staff across 1,308 UK stores, has been able to cut energy use by 3% through a simple-but-effective colleague-engagement programme which incorporates awareness training.

“Behaviour change is not just about putting posters up,” Crewe explained. “We engage with every single colleague and we share things they can do both in the workplace and at home to help reduce energy use.

“This is about human beings doing the right things to reduce energy, so it is absolutely possible, but you’ve got to handle it in the right way.”

Thinking smart

Crewe went on to explain the importance of on-site generation as part of Sainsbury’s 20×20 Sustainability programme.

“On-site generation is vital,” he said. “Part of the sustainability strategy we have at Sainsbury’s is to reduce as much energy as we can and think about opportunities to put less dependence upon a very stretched national grid system.

“We have a specific investment programme in place to put money into reducing energy and implementing new technologies across our estate.”

Investments range from rooftop solar PV; green gas CHP units in seven stores that are now running completely carbon free; and ground-source heat pumps installed in 28 locations. But, as Crewe explained, energy efficiency across the group is only achieved if smart systems are in place to monitor and measure the consumption of each store, office and distribution centre.

“We’re very anal when it comes to energy monitoring and metering. It enables us to understand the whole lifecycle of our stores and realise where we need to invest to become more efficient.”


Sainsbury’s is clearly making strides on sustainability. The business has also made big CSR commitments in areas of green transport and responsible palm oil, and made national headlines last year when it opened the first supermarket to run entirely on food waste.

But none of this would have been possible without the backing of the finance teams. Last year, Crewe was able to influence the board to invest in a £200m green bond which will deploy capital into sustainability initiatives across the business.

“If I’d have asked for that five years ago I’d probably have been told I was bonkers. But demonstrating the benefits that sustainability investment has on the operational profitability of Sainsbury’s has proved critical.

“Sustainability is a commercially imperative investment that businesses need to make if they want to be operationally efficient for the future.”

Paul Crewe was speaking at a session titled ‘Energy – the bottom line: use less, make your own, buy smarter’ on the opening day of the brand new Sustainability Live Conference. The show is running this week, from 21-23 April. Find out more here

Luke Nicholls


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