But apparent Tesco slowdown is cause for concern in new report
LONDON: Climate-friendly technology has gone mainstream in the UK and other parts of Europe, the latest Chilling Facts report reveals.
Since its launch in 2008 by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the report has sought to encourage the retail sector to move away from refrigeration systems based on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful global warming gases hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).
HFC emissions from commercial refrigeration in Europe equate to about 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year – that’s about one-third of Sweden’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
From just 14 stores in the UK using climate-friendly refrigeration systems in 2008,Chilling Facts IV reports that 344 stores have now made the transition, with thousands of engineers trained to service them – in the process debunking efficiency myths as retailers report significant reductions in energy use compared to conventional HFC systems.
Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have been lauded for their rapid roll-out of climate-friendly refrigeration, with Waitrose now running a quarter of its estate on HFC-free systems. Discounters Aldi and Lidl have made good progress in rolling out HFC-free freezers but have yet to do the same for chilled food.
However, the report’s authors express concern over Tesco’s apparent slowdown; the retail giant set the standard in 2009 by announcing plans for 150 HFC-free stores by 2012 but has so far managed just 60 – particularly disappointing given that Sainsbury’s has passed the 100 HFC-free stores mark.
Further afield, Tesco has made some progress in going HFC-free outside the UK, with 35 HFC-free stores in Hungary. However, in an apparent U-turn on its 2009 strategy to go HFC-free in new stores across the UK and Central Europe, it has recently built 60 new stores in Poland which run on an HFC refrigerant blend with a high global warming potential.
“As the biggest retailer in the UK, we’re concerned that Tesco is failing to meet its environmental commitments, especially as its competitors aren’t faltering in this way. Tesco needs to speed up its roll-out of HFC-free refrigeration and make good on its promise to go HFC-free”, said EIA Senior Campaigner Fionnuala Walravens.
This year,Chilling Facts has expanded its scope to include European retailers. The timing is significant as the European Union is currently reviewing its policy on fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) and is considering phasing out HFCs, a move certain to change the face of the global commercial refrigeration.
Chilling Facts IV finds that European retailers are ready for change, with many voluntarily committing to HFC phase-outs. In addition, feedback from continental Europe indicates UK retailers are falling behind the times with their negative approach to including doors on chilled food cabinets.
However, responses in Europe show a wide regional variation in prioritising climate-friendly cooling, with more progressive retailers based in Northern Europe; Southern and Eastern European retailers have done very little to phase out HFCs. As the report highlights, what is needed now is legislation to level the playing field and encourage reluctant retailers to take responsibility for their climate impacts.
“We’ve been impressed by the level of commitment to climate-friendly refrigeration shown by retailers across Europe,” said EIA Global Environment Campaigner Natasha Hurley. “Supermarkets have come a long way in the past four years and there is clearly an understanding within the industry that HFCs need to be phased out. At a time when retailers are going to considerable lengths to reduce their carbon footprints, running cooling systems on highly potent greenhouse gases simply makes no sense.”