Counting on Copenhagen

Date : 08 December 2010

As 2009 draws to a close, we look at some of the outstanding examples of sustainable practice across the food and grocery supply chain.

COP15 CopenhagenDespite the global credit crunch, the food and grocery industry has remained committed to reducing waste, environmental impact and promoting sustainability.

At our annual convention in October 2009, we asked an audience of 600 senior food and grocery directors and managers about sustainability and found that 58% of delegates considered it to be 'a long-term commitment regardless of the economy', ten percent higher than in 2008. Our research revealed that 85% of manufacturers have either stepped up their investment in sustainability or kept it the same during the recession.

Corporate emissions reduction

Both retailers and manufacturers have made some very bold and ambitious pledges in reducing their carbon emissions. In 2007, Marks and Spencer announced that it was aiming to make all of its UK and Republic of Ireland operations (stores, offices, warehouses, business travel and logistics) carbon neutral by 2012. They announced that almost all of their stores and offices in Scotland will be powered by 100% renewable energy by April 2010.

Carbon neutrality is a goal for many companiesIn January 2007, Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, set a series of stretching, long-term targets to reduce the carbon footprint of the business. These included a commitment to construct new, low carbon stores with a carbon footprint 50% smaller than the stores it was building in 2006.

On 12 January 2009, Tesco opened the first store built using a new, low carbon Environmental Blueprint in Manchester. The 52,000 sq ft store has a carbon footprint 70% smaller than stores built three years ago.

Tesco recently announced that it intends to become a zero carbon business by 2050, and is opening its first zero carbon store in Cambridgeshire before the end of 2009.

As part of PepsiCo's ongoing work to reduce carbon emissions, Quaker will use an electric train to transport porridge oats from its factory in Scotland to its storage depot in Leicestershire. By switching more of its freight to rail, Quaker will reduce the overall number of road miles travelled by its fleet transport by over 300,000 miles per year, saving more than 180 tonnes of CO2 annually.

We recognise that if we are serious about tackling climate change, we need to be ‘absolutely’ committed. This means re-thinking the way we do business, embedding sustainability into every decision we take.

Todd Stitzer, Chief Executive Officer, Cadbury

Cadbury, one of the world’s largest confectionery manufacturers, launched its ‘Purple Goes Green’ initiative in 2007, which set its vision to tackle climate change. It intends to shrink its global environmental footprint by cutting energy use, reducing excess packaging and managing water use, with a target of reducing its absolute carbon emissions by 50% by 2020.

These initiatives demonstrate that the industry is already making groundbreaking progress, and with future targets set, these highlight its commitment to the cause.

Working through the supply chain

Sainsbury's has announced that it is the first retailer to launch a unique scheme that will help dairy farmers measure their carbon footprint and aim to reduce greenhouse gases by up to 10%. The scheme, which is the first carbon footprinting model in agriculture to be certified by the Carbon Trust, will increase farm efficiency and provide greater profits for hundreds of farmers.

If we remove carbon, which equates to energy, which equates to costs, we fulfil our objective of getting low prices to the customer and having a positive environmental impact.

Jim Stanway, Head of Wal-Mart’s global supply chain

In 2007, Wal-Mart asked a number of its suppliers to measure and report their emissions. Most recently in 2009, Wal-Mart announced the introduction of a sustainability index to create a more transparent supply chain.

In October this year, Tesco committed to achieving a 30% reduction in the carbon impact of the products in its supply chain by 2020. Speaking to suppliers, Terry Leahy said: “We can achieve our target only with your cooperation and your collaboration”. To begin, Tesco will identify the products they sell that have the greatest carbon impact in the UK.

It's all in the product

Some retailers and manufacturers have been identifying the carbon impact (carbon footprinting) of their products, and have labelled products with the amount of carbon emissions created when producing a product.

Many companies that have undertaken some form of carbon footprint of their operations have identified ‘hotspots’ - areas using a lot of energy and therefore creating a lot of emission - and have been able to address these, saving both money and carbon emissions.

Copenhagen CommuniqueASDA has become the first British retailer to sell low carbon beef. As part of a groundbreaking programme to measure the carbon footprint of its meat, Asda has developed a range of beef with over a third lower carbon footprint than the standard 24-month beef - claiming to be the lowest carbon footprint in the industry.

Campaign for change

The food and grocery industry has been extremely proactive in its approach to climate change and in the lead up to Copenhagen, it has been actively encouraging its consumers to get vocal.

Numerous members of the industry have signed up for the ‘Copenhagen Communiqué on Climate Change’, described as the definitive progressive statement from the international business community ahead of the conference in Copenhagen. The Communiqué calls for the UN talks in Copenhagen to secure a strong and effective climate deal.

The statement drawn up by the Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, which includes companies ranging from Shell to Tesco, warns that economic development will not be sustained unless the climate is stabilised.

Campaigns from The Co-operative Group and M&S

The Communiqué claims it is ‘critical’ that countries exit the recession in a way that lays the foundation for low carbon growth, and avoids locking the world into a high-carbon future.

The Co-operative has been rallying its members to support ‘The Wave,’ a carnival style procession through the streets of London to call for international action on climate change. They called it ‘the most important day of action on climate change for billions of people around the world.’ To help increase participation they were running transportation to the event, with their members getting a subsidised rate.

Marks & Spencer has worked with Oxfam in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Through their website they were asking visitors to show support for a fair and ambitious deal by adding a message to their online ‘Patchwork Quilt’ that was presented to Downing Street before the conference commenced.

In the words of M&S, it “is all about doing the right thing. That's why we're working with our suppliers and customers to reduce emissions across all aspects of our business.”

Achieving emissions impossible

No matter what happens at Copenhagen, it is important to remind ourselves that the UK is committed to reducing emissions. At the end of 2008, the UK put itself at the forefront of the climate change debate by becoming the first country in the world to introduce a long-term, legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of climate change.

The Climate Change Act requires that UK emissions are reduced by at least 80% before 2050, compared to 1990 levels

For the UK to achieve this target, radical changes will be required. The introduction of the Climate Change Act will see the creation of the legally binding Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme in 2010.

The CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme is a climate change and energy saving scheme that will engage around 5,000 large public and private sector organisations, which are responsible for about 10 percent of the UK’s emissions.