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Tesco pulls out of Carbon Trust

UK supermarket giant Tesco has pulled out of the Carbon Trust’s scheme to lower carbon emissions, disappointing members of the Trust and the public – but is this actually a smart move by the retailer? As reported by The Grocer, at the supermarket’s previous progress rate, it would have taken the company the equivalent of 250 years’ worth of research to ensure that there were carbon footprint labels on all of its 70,000 items. So, Tesco’s decision to withdraw from the Carbon Trust scheme certainly saves the chain huge resources; but does it impact on our planet?

Initially, when Tesco first joined the scheme in 2007, the move was praised by then-CEO Sir Terry Leahy, even though many other retailers were much more dubious about a scheme which would involve months of research for each product. Since 2007, Tesco has labelled 500 of its products and researched a further 1,100, but now the retailer’s investment is being moved from individual bids on eco-credentials, to potentially seismic changes in their global supply chains.

“It’s only four years, but the Carbon Trust process has become something of an anachronism,” says Martin Chilcott, CEO of online sustainability company 2degrees, recruited by Tesco and Asda to work with suppliers on global hotspots. “Tesco is not saying it doesn’t want to stop carbon foot-printing, but you can’t do it with 70,000 lines with the time it was taking.”

A BRC report this week also claims that UK retailers have smashed their targets to slash emissions from transport, construction and refrigeration. But BRC head of environment Bob Gordon says that companies are increasingly looking at the supply chain, rather than schemes such as the Carbon Trust project. “I found out this week that the EU eco-label is only on 0.03% of goods, most of those in hotel rooms. And that’s been going on for 20 years,” he said.

In December of last year, Tesco joined The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), a group of global businesses, academics, governments and NGOs seeking new directions for green strategies. Walmart, M&S, Unilever, P&G and Coca-Cola all sit on the group, which was formed by Walmart to create ways of tracing the sustainability of products across the globe through their lifecycle. “Consumers are increasingly aware of the green marketplace but are confused by all the green claims and myriad of labels,” said TSC global director Bonnie Nixon.

A growing number of retailers are beginning to realise that passing the buck to the shopper simply won’t wash. Chris Shearlock, sustainable development manager at The Co-operative Group, said that the role of retailers has become to “choice-edit” on behalf of consumers, tapping into their environmental concerns and offering them products they trust. “This does not mean labelling every product, which is hugely time-consuming and expensive,” he said.

Simon Miller, consultancy director of experts Best Foot Forward – another company working with Tesco – also says that “There’s a much broader understanding today of where carbon hotspots exist, and there’s the realisation that we should take action in these big important areas.”

As well as carbon emissions, current discussion seems to be focusing on the environmental impact of the retail industry in other areas, including water, land-use and farming. With this rapidly changing agenda, the labelling of an individual products’ carbon footprint, at least in the way it has been done under the Carbon Trust model, does appear to have gone past its sell-by date. Perhaps Tesco’s decision to withdraw was not such a rash one after all.

Source : International Supermarket News

05 February 2012
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Thank you for the excellent presentation that you gave at Woodbury Park on Thursday morning. It was very interesting and thought-provoking for our Retail members. The feedback has been excellent.

Martin Elliott. Chief Executive - Home Hardware.

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