Major supermarkets restate environmental target after emissions rise

15th November 2022


Five major supermarkets have restated their pledge to halve the food system’s environmental impact this decade, and have agreed a fresh set of measures to reduce supply chain emissions.

The Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose first made the commitment at COP26 last year under a joint initiative with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). According to the WWF’s annual progress report What’s in store for the planet: The impact of the shopping basket on climate and nature, the supermarkets have reduced their Scope 1 and 2 absolute emissions by 4%, but their Scope 3 emissions have increased by 5% and account for 97% of retailers’ total greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints.

Data collection on farm-level GHG emissions and water stewardship is at an early stage, the report says, “so progress here remains hard to determine” and “there is not yet any evidence to show that agricultural GHGs are reducing in the UK”.

Retailers have made progress in reducing food waste across their operations, particularly through redistributing edible surplus; they have achieved a 19% reduction in retail and manufacturing waste against their 2007 baseline year. They also reported that 96% of the packaging they use is recyclable and that 23% is either recycled content or sustainably sourced. However, the WWF adds that to achieve a 50% reduction by 2030, “an escalation of work in this area is needed”. The area with the furthest distance to go is farm-stage food waste, where a baseline has still not been established.

According to the report, 6% of soy and 62% of palm oil in supermarkets’ supply chains was verified as being free from deforestation and conversion. However, no soy or palm oil importers are yet fully committed to handling only deforestation and conversion-free materials. It also reveals that 9% of retailer protein sales are currently from plant-based sources and 91% are from animal-based sources, arguing that making healthy and sustainable food more available, affordable and appealing for consumers will be an increasingly important focus for supermarkets.

The WWF has joined forces with the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to launch a workstream for tackling supply chain emissions, with signatory supermarkets supported to set approved science-based targets that cover Scope 3 emissions. The retailers have pledged to support their suppliers on such targets. The WWF and WRAP also called on supermarkets to publish net-zero plans setting out how they will shift towards plant-based food and low-carbon forms of agriculture.

Image credit | iStock

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