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Sainsbury’s commits to £1 billion to become Net Zero by 2040

Sainsbury's commits to £1 billion to become Net Zero by 2040

UK retailer Sainsbury’s has issued a pledge that its operations will become Net Zero in line with the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the highest ambition of the Paris Agreement, and a decade ahead of the UK Government’s own target. The project will focus on reducing carbon emissions, food waste, plastic packaging, water usage and increasing recycling, biodiversity and healthy and sustainable eating    Sainsbury’s will work collaboratively with suppliers and will ask suppliers for their own carbon reduction commitments. 

According to a press release issued by the retailer, its current carbon footprint is one million tons, which is a 35% absolute reduction in the last 15 years despite its space increasing by 46% over the same time frame. For the last six years Sainsbury’s has been awarded an A rating for taking action on Climate Change by the CDP, the highest rating of any UK supermarket.

Sainsbury’s will use the £1 billion investment to implement a programme of changes, with a focus on reducing carbon emissions, food waste, plastic packaging and water usage and increasing recycling, biodiversity and healthy and sustainable eating. The investment will enable the business to fulfil Scope one and Scope two emissions, putting the business on course for Net Zero a decade ahead of the UK government’s deadlines. 

The retailer will work with the Carbon Trust to assess emissions and set science-based targets for reduction, publicly reporting on progress every six months. The targets will align the business with the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the highest ambition of the Paris Agreement. Sainsbury’s will work with suppliers to set their own ambitious Net Zero commitments, in line with the Paris Agreement goals.

Mike Coupe, now former CEO of Sainsbury’s, said: “Our commitment has always been to help customers live well for less, but we must recognise that living well now also means living sustainably.  We have a duty to the communities we serve to continue to reduce the impact our business has on the environment and we are committing to reduce our own carbon emissions and become Net Zero by 2040, ten years ahead of the government’s own targets, because 2050 isn’t soon enough. We have a strong heritage of reducing our carbon emissions – we have reduced them by 35% over the past fifteen years despite the footprint of our business increasing by over 40%. We invested £260 million in over 3,000 initiatives over the last decade, including the start of our LED lighting programme and refrigeration. Over the next 20 years we will invest a further £1 billion in programmes that will transform the way we do business and put environmental impact at the forefront of every decision we make.”

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Making sustainability more than a buzz word

Environmental experts say the expected growth in vegetable consumption offers opportunities to make the food chain more sustainable.

Sustainability is hot, with many companies showing an increasing interest in efforts to sustain the food chain. But the term is used so often it has become a container concept without a clear outline.

“Sustainability has not been defined,” says Gert Engelen of VECO, a Belgian-based organisation that creates an enabling environment for smallholder farmers, “it is an evolving concept.”

Marc Soumillion of Res Sense, an organisation integrating commitment, innovation and experience, listed six components of sustainability: interdependence, incorporation, innovation, insight, integration and integrity.

Speaking at the “Tomatoes, trends towards 2020″ conference in Antwerp in April, as was Engelen, he stressed that a balance in the three P’s (planet, people, profit) is key.

Both Engelen and Soumillion agree that the fresh produce sector has all the right starting points. “The sector is a very good sector for sustainability,” Engelen said. He thinks the expected growth in vegetable consumption offers more opportunities to make the food chain more sustainable.

Thanks to renewed interest in and enjoyment of good nutrition, “times have never been so favourable in food,” Soumillion said.

Yet there are hurdles to overcome. Engelen highlighted the awkward position of producers at the base of the chain and mentions them to be the weakest link in the chain. Unstable and low prices, job complexity and a heavy workload are factors keeping potential future farmers away from the job, among factors posing “a realistic risk for the future of the food supply,” he said.

Consumer benefits and communication

Many recommendations have been made on how to make the food chain future proof and ensure a balanced distribution of expenses and benefits, ranging from pre-competitive cooperation via transparency to level playing fields.

One thing, however, is very clear, the consumer should be the focal point. Since a more sustainable product usually involves a higher price, the consumer’s needs and wants should be responded to.

Soumillion said that meeting people’s three need states – rational, emotional and societal – compounds the benefits for brands and delivers real business value. But he warned against confusing the normalisation of processes and product quality with the adding of true value and meaningful consumer benefits.

“You have to translate what you do in consumer benefits,” Soumillion said.

Communication is very important to this process. Engelen emphasised that it is very hard for the consumer to know which product is sustainable. He sees a role for authorities and companies to inform consumers more effectively.

Moreover, he thinks that when more information is shared with consumers throughout the food chain, they will be more understanding, which would be a useful step towards a more sustainable food chain.


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