Resource Use

Supermarkets to publish food waste data


Several major retail chains, including supermarkets Asda, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer, have signed a set of commitments to reduce their environmental impacts.

A total of 25 companies signed the voluntary commitment at the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) event at the House of Commons earlier today (29 January), pledging to reduce carbon emissions, boost resource efficiency and limit the amount of waste sent to landfill.

In what is being labelled as a ‘sector first’, supermarket signatories also committed to publish their data on food waste created at the retail stage, along with annual progress reports. 

It is hoped the targets and transparency will not only help protect the environment but also deliver ‘value’ for customers, who want ‘quality, affordable products…produced in an environmentally sustainable way’.

2020 commitments

Under the BRC’s 'Better Retailing Climate' initiative (first launched in 2008), all signatories are committing to a range of 2020 targets, including:

  • reducing absolute carbon emissions from retail operations by 25 per cent (based on 2005 levels);
  • cutting energy-related emissions from buildings by 50 per cent (compared with 2005 levels);
  • reducing emissions from refrigeration gases by 80 per cent (relative to floor space);
  • reducing energy-related carbon emissions from store deliveries by 45 per cent (compared with 2005 levels);
  • measuring water usage in sites collectively anticipated as accounting for 100 per cent of usage (a reduction target for which will be set in 2015); and
  • sending less than one per cent of waste to landfill.

The 2020 targets build on from the previous BRC targets, which saw signatories commit to:

  • reducing waste to landfill to below 15 per cent by 2013 (signatories sent six per cent of waste directly to landfill);
  • reducing delivery emissions by 15 per cent by 2013 (signatories almost doubled this, by achieving a 29 per cent reduction);
  • cutting energy-related emissions from buildings by 25 per cent by 2013 (signatories achieved a 30 per cent reduction); and
  • halving emissions from refrigeration by 2013 (signatories achieved a 55 per cent reduction); and
  • measuring 75 per cent of water usage in sites (signatories measure 83 per cent).

Commitments ‘make business sense’

Speaking after the event – which was hosted by Justin Tomlinson MP, with speeches from Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Ian Cheshire, BRC Chairman– BRC Director General Helen Dickinson, said: “Retailers in the UK have made significant progress in reducing their impact on the environment. I’m delighted that the signatories are pushing themselves to achieve against even more ambitious commitments, having gone above and beyond the last set of targets.

“The strength of commitment is plain to see when you look at how much progress has been made in the last decade: for example, only six per cent of waste was sent to landfill in 2013, down from 47 per cent in 2005. But retailers will continue to keep this momentum going: they recognise that it makes business sense and delivers real environmental benefits as well as value for their customers.”

Paterson added:“This initiative has been very successful in showing how industry can reduce the environmental impact of the retail sector.  

“It also highlights how it is possible to grow businesses in a sustainable way that is not only good for the environment but for the economy as well.”

The event at the House of Commonsalso saw the launch of BRC’s new report, ‘A Better Retailing Climate: Driving Resource Efficiency’, which further details progress made by signatories since 2008, outlines the new 2020 commitments, and calls on government to deliver a range of actions to boost resource efficiency and investment in the sector. These include:

  • showing a ‘a firm commitment to invest in resource efficiency and a circular economy’;
  • managing and coordinating engagement with householders in reducing food waste;
  • providing a ‘clear and harmonised approach’ across business practices together with a ‘long term, clear and committed vision for low carbon in the UK’; and
  • implementing a ‘new framework to: better measure and account for changes in natural capital assets, and improve valuation of those changes to feed into decision-making processes’.

Global food waste scandal

The issue of food wasted throughout the supply chain has been gaining a lot of attention recently. Currently, estimates vary widely as to how much food is cumulatively wasted from field to fork and beyond; the most commonly quoted figure, first put forward by the Stockholm International Water Institute, is that as much as half of food is wasted worldwide. However, a report released in November 2012 by Aalto University in Finland, put the figure at just 25 per cent. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers says the amount wasted is somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent.

Speaking to Resource, food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart pointed out: “There is a serious lack of good, hard empirical data on food waste. Only a few countries have done really systematic studies on food waste, and those have only done it on particular points in the supply chain.” He added that parts of the supply chain that waste substantial amounts of food, including fisheries, slaughterhouses and catering firms, are routinely omitted from research into supply chain waste. The BRC’s commitment will not cover these areas.

Read the BRC’s report ‘A Better Retailing Climate: Driving Resource Efficiency’.