2003 Results

Environment module commentary

The environment module provides an opportunity to benchmark supermarket performance across the sector around three broad areas: Corporate Commitment to Environmental Responsibility and Performance, Climate Change and Waste. For practical reasons we limited the review of supermarket performance to these three critical areas. Throughout the pilot we also scaled down the scope of the questions, due to supermarket comments regarding data intensive exercises. This resulted in a questionnaire that was not as challenging as we had hoped. However, we especially praise the supermarkets that submitted the questionnaire this year, as well as those that took part in the stakeholder process.

Leading companies are implementing environmental management systems, setting performance targets and implementing policies. To meet the expectations of their various stakeholders – including consumers and investors – public reporting is essential. The UK government has threatened mandatory reporting. Guidelines for the reporting of waste, water and greenhouse gas emissions have already been issued. Despite this, not all the supermarkets were reporting on environmental issues – Safeway being the only supermarket to report back on both Climate change and waste using the government guidelines.


Commitment at the top is essential to drive through real change. All the supermarkets demonstrated varying stages of board-level responsibility. The degree to which training and awareness raising was carried out captured some sense of a deeper commitment to environmental performance throughout the supermarkets. In an ideal world all staff would receive some sort of environmental awareness training – covering the key impacts of the company's activities and operations. For two of the supermarkets, only staff with environmental responsibilities received training, although awareness raising is due to take place for all staff in the near future.

Supermarkets are increasingly recognising the need to manage, improve and also report on their environmental performance. Environmental reporting contributes to meeting the increasing demands from external audiences for environmentally related date. A proactive approach to environmental management is seen as a good indicator of the overall management quality within a company. Safeway's web-based environment report, scored highly against the ACCA environmental reporting award criteria and being on the web is cost effective, saves on paper and printing, and allows for the report to be updated more frequently. Co-op also covered every aspect of their business through their social accountability report, proving that both supermarkets can show they are committed to environmental performance in a managed, targeted and transparent way.

Global climate change has been described by many, including the UK Prime Minister as the biggest public policy challenge we face. The main source of human enhanced emissions is carbon dioxide from energy use. Unless emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced substantially, climate systems are likely to become increasingly unstable. All supermarkets should be aiming for absolute CO2emission reduction in accordance with Government targets and obligations. All supermarkets set targets for reducing energy consumption, some more vigorous than others. Again, reporting on climate change and waste was very important in verifying the supermarket comments, with Safeway gaining most scores for the module as they had all data available in their report.

The UK produces over 78 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste each year. Using the DETR Environmental Reporting Guidelines for Company Reporting on Waste, most companies should already be aware of the wastes they produce and where they go. All supermarkets were beginning to take positive measures to tackle waste minimisation, mainly through the production of biodegradable carrier bags and packaging. These suit organic waste recovery systems, but are no substitute for reducing excessive waste in the first place.

Overall, the supermarkets did respond well to this module and two performed very well. Safeway was the best in class for the module and demonstrated a range of good practice initiatives, including establishing one of the most efficient distribution systems to reduce food miles and decrease the number of vehicles on the roads, as well as having 4 distribution centres that are ISO14001 accredited. In the future, we would strongly recommend all supermarkets to have an environmental policy with ambitious targets for the reduction of CO2 and greenhouse gases along with a massive reduction in waste sent to landfill (and hence any costs incurred!). We would hope that supermarkets would gain 'points' in the future with their stakeholders by developing innovative ideas (like distribution vehicles running on chicken fat and cooking oil!) which progress the challenge towards a truly sustainable supermarket.

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