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Climate Action Roadmap

Climate Action Roadmap

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The UK retail industry

The retail industry in the UK consists of over 300,000 separate businesses. It employs over 3 million people representing over 8% of all UK jobs, and provides customers with important goods and services, meeting needs and aspirations. In 2019, retail sales in the UK were worth £439 billion. For every pound spent, approximately:

  • 39 pence was spent in food shops;
  • 12 pence was spent in clothing shops;
  • 9 pence was spent on automotive fuel;
  • 8 pence was spent in household goods shops (including electronics and furniture stores);
  • The remainder was spent in a range of other types of shops, and in non-store retail.[1]

Data from 2018 reports online retail accounting for over 20% of retail sales, a share that will have increased markedly since then, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the purposes of this roadmap, the retail industry is defined as the businesses involved with the sale of new and used goods to the general public for personal or household consumption or utilisation. The retail sector includes shops, department stores, supermarkets, market stalls, door-to-door sales and internet retailers. Sales of automobiles are excluded.

The imperative to act: why retailers are addressing climate change 

Urgent action towards net zero carbon retail is essential to the industry’s continued vitality in a rapidly changing world:

A transition to more sustainable practices and products is becoming key to meeting customer needs, with interest exploding around climate-friendly lifestyles, lower-impact diets and renewable and reusable goods. Sales of meat-free meals in the UK increased 40% between 2014 and 2019 alone, for instance. 

Emissions-reducing measures like resource efficiency, renewable energy adoption, and smart operation reforms can cut costs and increase profit margins

Resilient supply chains created through lasting partnerships with stakeholders and resource managers are vital to future-proof operations and ensure business continuity. 

These actions will also be crucial to comply with regulations and satisfy investor demands as both the public and financial markets drive the transition to a net zero society. 

Alongside the compelling business case, there is a moral case to act. Climate change is already disproportionately harming the world’s most vulnerable communities. Individuals and businesses in a position to act should take responsibility for their impacts.

[1] Retail sector in the UK (2018). House of Commons Briefing Paper.