By Ed King
Tesco has saved over £200m as a result of energy efficiency measures since 2006, according to their Climate Change Director.
And speaking at the launch of Climate Week 2012, Helen Fleming told RTCC that the company was committed to cutting its energy bills, but would not ‘dictate’ to customers what they could buy, as this would turn them off green issues.
Fleming also said the UK’s leading retailer was still committed to carbon labelling and would be revealing new plans shortly, despite withdrawing from the Carbon Trust’s scheme earlier this year.
“We know we need to be a sustainable business in the long term – we’ve been a successful business and we’ll continue to do that,” Fleming said.
“We benefit because we are becoming more energy efficient, and we’re saving money on our energy bills – we estimate that the actions we have taken since 2006 have saved us £200 million pounds in energy bills on an annual basis
“It also makes us more resilient, as we are less exposed to international markets and energy price movements.”
Despite the recent carbon labelling controversy, Tesco – who are lead sponsors of Climate Week 2012 – have a fairly good record when it comes to sustainability issues.
In 2011 the company was named the top retailer for tackling climate change by the Carbon Discloure Project – their second award in as many years – and Director Lucy Neville-Rolfe was today among 11 signatories in a letter to the UK government calling for green incentives ahead of the 2012 Budget.
Tesco runs a renewable energy arm, offering solar installations to customers, and it has opened a number of low-carbon stores across the country, pioneering the use of Natural Refrigeration units, which use fewer hydroflurocarbons (HFCs).
Refrigeration accounts for up to 50% of energy costs of supermarkets and is estimated to contribute 15-30% of grocery retailers’ total carbon footprint.
Long supply chains make cutting emissions for supermarkets a complex issue, but Fleming suggests this also puts the retailer in the unique position of having real leverage over their business partners – especially given their pledge to cut 30% of emissions by 2020 from the products that they sell.
“The real challenge is to understand where the big problems are – sometimes it’s not about transportation of products – it’s often about intrinsic processes,” she said.
“Some forms of agriculture – dairy – is a carbon intensive process. What we can do is use our position in the supply chain to work with our suppliers, help them understand where there are opportunities for savings and make those products more sustainable in the long term.”
Convincing customers to buy ‘sustainable’ products is a harder job – especially in an era where for many the concept of eating ‘seasonal produce’ no longer exists.
Importing meat from New Zealand, strawberries from Israel and bananas from Brazil results in huge transit emissions – but Fleming insists that retailers cannot start telling customers what they can and cannot buy.
“We can help give our customers information and help them make choices. But the quickest way to turn customers off is by dictating to them – we believe in empowering people – give them information, the ability to act to make good choices.”
In time those choices could be influenced by carbon footprint labelling across the sector – in the same way that sandwiches and crisp packets have calories and salt intake badges prominently displayed.
And Fleming remains optimistic that consumers can be influenced to buy ‘sustainable’ produce if the benefits are clearly explained and they are offered a clear choice.
“We’re not going to stop carbon labelling….we adopted a form of labelling through the Carbon Trust which was a fantastic opportunity, ” she said.
“We’ve spent the last few years understanding how that label works, how customners respond, what works and what doesn’t.
“Customers want choice – and we want to move to a world where more people are labelling, including us, and we want to do more and more of it, and [ensure] that that labelling process is really meaningful, that they can relate to and use in their real lives.
“It’s a difficult area because I don’t think anyone has found the right solution yet, but we are determined to really help our customers….it’s about giving them help and empowering them.”
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