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How green is your supermarket?

We takes a look at how the leading stores measure up in the battle to save our planet…

With climate change now a matter of fact, rather than fiction, the pressure is on for our major businesses to do their bit for the environment.

While all supermarkets have been making an effort to cut their use of carrier bags, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to analysing their overall environmental impact, according to eco-consumer group the Green Alliance.

Hannah Hislop, policy advisor for the Green Alliance, said: ‘A much bigger impact of supermarkets is the products sold, where they’ve come from, how they’ve been produced and how much energy has been used in their production and transport.’


M&S
In 2007, the high street chain launched its own sustainability plan. ‘Plan A is a 100-point, five-year eco plan that tackles a wide range of environmental and social challenges,’ says a spokesperson. The plan focuses on five key areas: climate change, waste, sustainable raw materials, health and fair trade.

Carbon footprint
As part of Plan A, M&S is committed to becoming carbon neutral in the UK and Republic of Ireland by 2012. ‘By using more renewable electricity, including power generated from small scale wind turbines and anaerobic digestion facilities we’ve reduced the net carbon emissions from our operations by 18% since the launch of Plan A,’ says a spokesperson.

Food sourcing and sustainability
The chain aims to source as much food as possible from the UK and Republic of Ireland. ‘Last year this included all our fresh beef, pork, chicken, farmed salmon, eggs and milk,’ says a spokesperson. M&S says it is ‘committed to sourcing the key raw materials from the most sustainable sources available to us.’ All fish sold will be Marine Stewardship Council certified by 2012, and in 2009 M&S became the first UK retailer to source only pole-and-line or line caught tuna.

Organic and Fairtrade
Last year M&S sold over 300 lines of Fairtrade food with sales up 38% against 2006/7 figures. ‘We are also the biggest retailer of Fairtrade clothing in the UK with over eight million garments sold last year,’ says a spokesperson. The retailer plans to triple sales of organic food in the UK and Republic of Ireland by 2012. ‘Last year we launched 26 new organic lines in food and sold over 450 lines in total.’ M&S is also committed to ethical trading, with a programme in place that trains and monitors suppliers to help them improve working conditions.

Transport
Since the launch of Plan A, M&S has reduced fuel use in delivery fleets by more than 20%, and converted 67% of its fleet to cleaner engines.

In stores
The chain has three ‘green’ stores and is trialling five ‘energy’ stores, looking at ways to further reduce energy used in store. ‘We’ve improved energy efficiency in stores by 10% and have committed to increase this figure to 25% by 2012,’ says a spokesperson. ‘Thirty-one per cent of our electricity is now sourced from ‘green’ tariff renewable supplies and we’ve signed contracts that will significantly increase this figure. ‘Eighty-four per cent of our construction waste was recycled last year and we’ve committed to 100% by 2012.’

Packaging and recycling
Since 2007, M&S has reduced its food packaging by 12%. Ninety-one per cent of its food packaging can be recycled, too.Customers can also now return old M&S clothes to Oxfam stores in return for a money-off voucher. ‘Following its success, this scheme was extended to encourage people to recycle their soft furnishings, including cushions, curtains, throws and bed linen,’ says a spokesperson.

Waste
‘We successfully cut food waste by 20% last year and plan to send all remaining food waste to some sort of recycling (including composting and anaerobic digestion) by 2012,’ says a spokesperson.

Green rating from Consumer Focus: A


SAINSBURY’S
Jack Cunningham, Sainsbury’s environmental affairs manager, says: ‘Taking a leading stance on issues of environmental concern is part of our heritage. And a Focus survey recently put us at the top of its Green to the Core league table, giving us an A rating for our work on environment and sustainability.’

Carbon footprint
Sainsbury’s works with its milk farmers to help them reduce their carbon footprints. ‘A total of 5,000 tonnes of CO2 have already been taken out of our milk supply chain in the past year, thanks to the initiative. The tool was introduced to milk farmers in 2007 and has been so successful that it will now be rolled out to beef, lamb, pork, cheese, poultry and egg farmers,’ says Jack Cunningham.

Food sourcing and sustainability
‘Where possible, we aim to source British and we offer a number of products that are 100% British all year round. For other seasonal produce, we aim to stock the best of British in season,’ says a spokesperson. ‘All our milk, fresh and frozen whole chickens, fresh sausages, eggs, own brand crisps and dairy ice cream is 100% British. We will only label meat as British if it is born, reared and slaughtered in the UK. We offer Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified fish where available and aim that cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns be MSC certified by the end of 2010.’ Sainsbury’s also has set a target of switching to 100% certified sustainable palm oil by 2014.

Organic and Fairtrade
Sainsbury’s stocks over 700 Fairtrade products, including bananas, sugar, red label tea and T-shirts. ‘We are on track for 100% of our own brand tea and roast and ground coffee to be Fairtrade by 2010,’ says a spokesperson. ‘We remain committed to investing £1 million over four years to the Sainsbury’s Fair Development Fund, giving those in developing countries a better future through Fairtrade projects.’ The store also has ‘crop action groups’ aimed at reducing pesticide use.

Transport
Sainsbury’s is a leading user of electric vehicles and is expanding its fleet, aiming for 20% of online deliveries to be made by their ‘little green vans’ in 2010. The retailer uses hybrid company cars and is trialling biofuels for its lorries.

In stores
The chain currently has two environmentally efficient stores, which use renewable energy to produce 54% lower emissions. More eco stores are in the pipeline. All stores are undergoing an energy reduction programme, showing energy savings of 15% and using rainwater harvesting to reduce mains water usage by 50%. Sainsbury’s has pledged to switch to CO2 fridges in all stores by 2030 and has earmarked the first 135 stores for conversion by 2014. This move will cut its carbon footprint by around a third.

Packaging and recycling
‘We are working to minimise the amount of packaging we use,’ says Jack Cunningham. ‘Since 2004/05 we have reduced our total packaging weight by 13.32%, and we are now working to reduce our own brand packaging weight by 33%, relative to sales, by 2015. We aim for our packaging to be reusable, recyclable or home compostable. We also aim to use recycled materials where possible.’ Over the past two years Sainsbury’s has reduced the number of plastic bags issued by 58%.

Waste
‘In 2008, we embarked on plans to end our use of landfill for food waste, opting instead for a range of alternatives including anaerobic digestion, a process by which food waste is efficiently turned into electricity and fertiliser,’ says Jack Cunningham.

Green rating from Consumer Focus: A


WAITROSE
‘Our environmental and social responsibilities are at the heart of our business’, says a spokesperson. ‘We have a long-term holistic approach to ethical sourcing and our commitments are more than just promises for the future – we’re taking immediate practical steps that are making a difference here and now.’

Carbon footprint
Carbon reduction is an important part of Waitrose’s environment strategy. ‘We have already achieved a 28% like-for-like reduction in carbon emissions across the business, exceeding our target of a 20% reduction by 2020,’ says a spokesperson.

Food sourcing and sustainability
The retailer launched a local and regional sourcing initiative in 2001. The scheme now covers over 2,150 products from around 465 producers. ‘Eighty per cent of our shops now feature selected local fruit and vegetables,’ says a spokesperson. ‘All our fish is 100% sustainable. All our beef, pork and chicken are sourced from British suppliers and all our lamb, when in season. Our labeling is honest and transparent – ‘British’ means born, raised and slaughtered in this country.’

Organic and Fairtrade
Waitrose was a pioneer of organic foods and has been selling them for 20 years, now offering over 3,000 lines in store. The retailer also sells almost 200 Fairtrade products. ‘We launched the Waitrose Foundation in 2005 to improve the lives of the farm workers who grow and pick our South African citrus fruit, mangoes, grapes, avocados and stone fruit’, says a spokesperson. ‘We return a percentage of profits from our sales to the farm workers, to help their communities build a better future. Its success means we have now extended the Foundation to suppliers in Ghana and Kenya. ‘In its first four years, the Foundation has raised over £2 million and has supported 100 projects in education, sport, social and skills development, and healthcare, benefiting over 16,000 workers and their families.’

Transport
‘Our aim is to reduce the distance food travels between where it’s produced and sold by using the most efficient means of transport, supporting local producers and improving route planning systems,’ says a spokesperson. Waitrose saved over 1.6 million miles in the last financial year. ‘We aim to achieve a 15% reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions from store deliveries by 2013.’ The store is also trialling biofuel lorries and the use of eco bikes for deliveries.

In stores
‘Since 2007, 100% of our energy has been from green sources,’ says a spokesperson. Further Waitrose renewable energy initiatives include wind turbines at its farm in Hampshire, and the use of anaerobic digestion to turn food waste into energy. ‘We use several methods to save energy and improve efficiency in our shops, have committed to improve the energy efficiency of our shops by 20% by 2010, and have delivered a 19% reduction to date.’

Packaging and recycling
The supermarket has reduced packaging weight by a third since 2001. ‘We have an ongoing project across the business to eliminate packaging wherever possible, and to switch to more environmentally sustainable materials where we can,’ says a spokesperson. Waitrose achieved a 50% reduction in the number of single use bags issued in the last three years.

Waste
The chain diverts 50% of its operational waste away from landfill and is on track to meet its target of diverting 95% away from landfill by 2013. ‘We are now sending the food waste from 50 of our branches to an anaerobic digestion plant, where it is converted into renewable energy which goes back into the national grid,’ says a spokesperson. ‘By the end of May this will have more than doubled to 115 shops.’

Green rating from Consumer Focus: B


The CO-OP
‘The Co-operative Group seeks to deliver value to its stake holders in an ecologically sustainable and socially responsible manner,’ says a spokesperson.

Carbon footprint
‘The Co-operative is among the world’s leading businesses when it comes to tackling global climate change,’ says a spokesperson. ‘Our approach is fivefold, focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy consumption and generation, carbon offsetting, provision of finance and public policy lobbying.’

Food sourcing and sustainability
All Co-op own-label fresh beef, pork, duck, turkey, salmon, fresh and frozen chicken and fresh and frozen sausages are 100% British sourced. The stores stock 100% British eggs, fresh milk and cream. ‘Year round, 40% of Co-op produce is UK sourced, the remainder being sourced from overseas to maintain year-round quality and supplies,’ says a spokesperson. ‘In addition, The Co-operative Farms, part of The Co-operative Group, is the UK’s largest farming business, farming more than 50,000 acres at sites across England and Scotland. Much of the fresh produce grown by The Co-operative Farms is sold in our food stores.’

Organic and Fairtrade
‘We are proud to offer around 260 lines of Fairtrade grocery products,’ says a spokesperson. ‘In terms of ethical trade, in 1999 we developed a Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct. This committed us to take a firm stand on issues such as child labour, forced labour, excessive working hours, health and safety, freedom of association and wages.’

Transport
Across the Group, reported CO2 emissions connected with transport decreased by 15% and mileage decreased by 19% (some 28.4 million miles) during 2008.

In stores
During 2008, energy consumption across the Group decreased by 8% compared with 2007. ‘We have over 4,000 outlets powered by renewable energy, and have significantly cut the energy consumption in our buildings in recent years. An £18 million efficiency programme has been initiated to reduce electricity and gas consumption and generate 15% of energy requirements from sustainable sources by 2012,’ says a spokesperson.

Packaging and recycling
‘The Co-operative Food is committed to taking a wider sustainability approach to packaging,’ says a spokesperson. ‘As a result of packaging reduction projects initiated since 2006, The Co-operative Food was expected to meet its 15% packaging reduction target by the end of 2009; a year ahead of schedule.’ The number of plastic bags given away at stores has fallen by 64% in the past three years.

Waste
The group’s approach to waste management focuses on waste reduction, increasing reuse and recycling rates, improving the degradability and biodegradability of waste, and the provision of finance for more sustainable waste management options. The Co-operative aims to send less than 50% of total waste to landfill by 2013.

Green rating from Consumer Focus: C


TESCO
‘We employ 470,000 people around the world, and many more people work in firms supplying our stores. Our aim is to mobilise collective action among customers, suppliers and employees, to help protect the environment, and generate a mass movement in green consumption,’ says a spokesperson.

Carbon footprint
‘I commit Tesco to becoming a zero-carbon business by 2050,’ says Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of the retailer. ‘In the meantime, I set targets of a 50% reduction by 2020, and we have already seen a 13% reduction since 2007.’

Food sourcing and sustainability
‘In the UK, we stock around 3,000 local lines and work with over 480 local and national suppliers,’ says a spokesperson. ‘In 2008, local produce accounted for £624 million or 2.2% of UK sales, compared with 1.7% the previous year. This is a 30% increase in sales compared to 2007.’ The group aims to increase sales of local products to £1 billion by 2011 in the UK. ‘We have Codes of Practice for farming, including meat and fish, which cover environment, feed, welfare and other critical issues. We aim to source all palm-derived ingredients from certified sustainable oil and are working towards achieving this goal by 2015,’ says a spokesperson.

Organic and Fairtrade
‘In 2008, our UK stores carried 188 Fairtrade products including 117 Fairtrade-labelled Tesco own-brand products, ranging from coffee and cotton to fresh and dried fruit,’ says a spokesperson. ‘Despite the economic downturn our Fairtrade range enjoyed 2.3% year-on-year growth.’ The group sells five million fairtrade cotton items a year; and sales have increased fivefold in the last year. Tesco is a founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI, see www.ethicaltrade.org) which monitors and enforces certain criteria are met in areas including working hours, wages and child labour.

Transport
‘So far, we have achieved a reduction of 11.5% across our business, and aim for this to reach 50% by 2012,’ says Terry Leahy.

In stores
‘In 2007, we set ambitious targets to halve emissions from existing buildings by 2020,’ says Terry Leahy. ‘We wanted new stores and other buildings constructed between 2007 and 2020 to emit on average no more than half the CO2 of an equivalent store built before 2007. ‘Our Cheetham Hill store in Manchester cut emissions by 70% compared to a standard store in 2007.’ The retailer has also now opened its first zero-carbon store in Ramsey in Cambridgeshire.

Packaging and recycling
‘We are striving to reduce packaging, reduce carrier bag usage and increase recycling,’ says Terry Leahy. ‘It is our aim to reduce our packaging weight by 15% by 2010, recycle 80% of our packaging and we’ve already reduced carrier bag use by 53%.’Tesco aims to further cut carrier bag usage by 70% this year.

Waste
‘In 2009, we achieved the ambition we had set out of sending zero waste to landfill from our UK stores,’ says Terry Leahy.

Green rating from Consumer Focus: C


MORRISONS
‘In 2008, we were among the first of 12 companies and the first supermarket to be awarded the prestigious Carbon Trust Standard for our management and reduction of carbon,’ says a spokesperson.

Carbon footprint
The store works alongside the Carbon Trust and has reduced its footprint by 36%.‘We’ve reduced our carbon footprint by decreasing our energy use, increasing energy efficiency, improving refrigeration, introducing cleaner fleet engines and training our people in cutting carbon,’ says CEO Marc Bolland.

Food sourcing and sustainability
‘Our fresh pork, lamb, beef, poultry and milk is 100% British and overall, 75% of the vegetables that we sell throughout the year are British,’ says a spokesperson. All of Morrisons’ own-brand fish is sustainably sourced. ‘We are also working with our suppliers to strengthen our commitment to sustainable sourcing of palm oil and soya,’ says a spokesperson.

Organic and Fairtrade
The store stocks a range of 350 organic products. And 51% of the store’s own-brand shell eggs are now free-range. ‘In 1994, we were among the first major supermarkets to sell Fairtrade products,’ says a spokesperson. ‘Today our Fairtrade range includes both Fairtrade branded and Morrisons’ own brand products, including things like hot beverages, jams, juice, fresh fruit and vegetables, snacks and now sweets. ‘We have also implemented an Ethical Trading Code with key supplier groups designed to protect the rights of employees, which covers areas such as safety and hygiene, payment of living wages, working hours, regular employment relationships and the prevention of child labour, discrimination and harsh or inhumane treatment.’

Transport
‘We have achieved our target of an 8% reduction in our haulage emissions by 2010,’ says a spokesperson. The group aims to introduce cleaner engines to 80% of its fleet by the end of this year.

In stores
‘We aim to use 10% of energy from renewable sources and reduce water consumption by 15% by the end of 2010,’ says a spokesperson.

Packaging and recycling
‘Overall, we’ve removed around 6,500 tonnes of packaging,’ says a spokesperson. ‘We encourage customers to reuse all shopping bags, and we provide a range of alternatives to plastic carrier bags, including a 10p Charity of the Year reusable, recycled and recyclable bag; durable woven shopping bags; a jute bag; a wine carrier made of recycled PET and cardboard boxes. Since 2006, we’ve seen a 32% reduction in plastic bag use – the equivalent of 505 million bags.’

Waste
‘In 2008/09, we successfully reduced the volume of our waste sent to landfill by 34%, or 2,886 tonnes, compared with 2007/08. We now recycle 72% of store waste and aim to see this total reach 80% by the end of 2010,’ says a spokesperson.

Green rating from Consumer Focus: C


ASDA
‘We have a comprehensive energy efficiency programme, which also includes identifying renewable sources of energy to power our stores and depots,’ says a spokesperson for the chain.

Carbon footprint
‘Our total carbon output fell by 2.4% in 2007 and is on track to fall by a further massive 8% in 2009,’ says Asda’s head of sustainability, Julian Walker Palin.

Food sourcing and sustainability
Asda was recently slammed in the Green to the Core report by Government consumer watchdog Consumer Focus, which found that only 59% of Asda’s fresh produce comes from the UK. However, the retailer claims ‘to bring our customers products grown or manufactured using the most sustainable methods available’. The company has released targets for 100% of fish sold to be sustainably sourced by the end of this year, and aims that all palm oil is to be obtained from sustainable sources within the next five years.

Organic and Fairtrade
‘We have almost 1,000 organic products to choose from,’ says a spokesperson. ‘And by continuing to expand the range of Fairtrade products in our stores, we are helping our customers make a contribution to the cause.’The retailer works alongside farmers to reduce pesticide use and improve animal welfare.

Transport
Asda has cut road miles by using rail and sea transport. ‘By sending 70% of our non-food imports directly to the north by sea, rather than via southern ports like Felixstowe and then by road, we are cutting a further 2.5 million road miles each year,’ says a spokesperson. The group aims to cut transport emissions by 40% by this year. It is now using electric delivery vans to further reduce its carbon footprint.

In stores
‘In existing stores we are on target to reduce our energy consumption by 20% by 2012,’ says a spokesperson. ‘Our eco-friendly store near Liverpool is 40% more energy efficient and emits 50% less CO2 than a standard new build store. Our main goal is for all our stores and depots to be supplied by 100% renewable energy.’

Packaging and recycling
‘We have reduced our packaging by 27% since 2006,’ says Julian Walker Palin. And the store states that 92% of its packaging is now recyclable. Asda figures show the retailer has also reduced single use carrier bags by 53%.

Waste
‘We currently divert almost 90% of our store waste from landfill,’ says Julian Walker Palin. ‘We’ve set ourselves the target of sending zero
waste to landfill by the end of 2010; not just in stores, but across all of the ASDA businesses, including depots and offices.’

Green rating from Consumer Focus: D


Rob Holdway’s green tip:
’Over the last 10 years flagship eco-supermarkets have been built across the UK. The focus has been on energy management to reduce the CO2 emissions from the energy used at the store. These green flagships are a serious provocation, a philosophy and physical representation of a more desirable future.’

GET INFORMED
Watchdog Group published the Green to the Core report in November 2009. This informative report examined the green credentials of all the major supermarket chains, rating them on how well they inform consumers about sustainability issues and help them to make more sustainable choices. See www.consumerfocus.org.uk for more details.


Pictures: getty images

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