Supermarkets in the UK are surpassing targets to reduce greenhouse emissions from refrigeration units through a series of changes to the way they manage their equipment.
According to the latest progress report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Asda, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, the Co-Op and Waitrose are ahead of the goals that were set when they signed up to ‘A Better Retailing Climate’, a voluntary initiative set up four years ago to improve environmental performance in the sector.
Supermarkets had been set the target of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from refrigeration by 50% by 2013, relative to floor space. That objective has already been exceeded with more than half of the year remaining.
On a collective basis, total emissions to air from escaped refrigeration gases were cut by 52% relative to floor space between 2005 and 2012. Absolute emissions were reduced by 33%.
The major source of carbon emissions is the leakage of fluorinated refrigerant gases — HFCs or F-gases — used to keep the systems cool. Even though the replacement of F-gases has proven to be technically challenging, grocery retailers have made long-term commitments to address the impacts of refrigeration, some of which involve the complete phase-out of F gases altogether.
The sector has addressed the issue collaboratively, launching a ‘Code of Conduct for Carbon Reduction in the Retail Refrigeration Sector’ 18 months ago. Developed by the Carbon Trust, retailers and the refrigeration industry, the Ccode is designed to support retailers to reduce refrigeration emissions.
Retailers are using a variety of approaches to tackle the impact of HFCs, including reducing leakage of F-gases and installing alternative natural refrigeration systems that use gases with a lower global warming potential.
Retailers are also making their refrigeration systems more energy efficient by installing night blinds and doors where appropriate, capturing cold air spillage from open-front refrigeration cases and redistributing it to areas of the store that require cooling, and recycling heat produced from the cooling of refrigeration cases to heat the aisle space.
However, the report warned that financial and technical barriers continue to “frustrate faster progress”.
The BRC has called for government support for a phased approach to the reduction of HFCs in refrigeration to enable flexibility in delivery, and the transition to natural refrigeration systems and non-HFC products through addressing the skills and knowledge barriers preventing a more rapid adoption of new technologies.
As well as refrigeration, the BRC revealed that during the past four years retailers have beaten a range of targets in other key areas including waste, energy, transport and water usage.
The BRC’s environment policy adviser, Alice Ellison, said new targets would now be set in a bid to maintain the momentum.
“The retail industry is going above and beyond in its commitments to reducing its environmental impact across all aspects of its operations,” she commented. “Despite the downturn and other challenges affecting business, retailers are continuing to innovate and collaborate in this space, which delivers real environmental benefits as well as value for their customers.”