For the retail industry
The following milestones indicate good practice measures that will help the industry to reach net zero:
> Employee engagement programmes on climate
> Driving down textile and food waste in customers’ homes
> Increasing proportion of plant-based food sales
> Support customers to choose energy efficient and responsibly sourced products
> Reduce virgin material consumption by customers
> Providing product climate information to customers
> Access to EV charging points at all stores
> Widespread retailing of circular products
> Retailing of net zero products
For the industry to meet the overall net zero targets, rapid action is needed to support retail employees and customers to live low carbon lifestyles. The prioritisation and relevance of specific actions will vary considerably between retailers, based on the products and services they provide, their ability to influence, and the work they have already completed. The list here is intended as a general guide for retailers on their work to support low carbon lifestyles.
There is a significant volume of work completed by other organisations that is designed to support companies to help customers and employees to live low carbon lifestyles. While the following recommendations summarise the extensive guidance and programmes available, it is recommend that retailers review the guidance, programmes and initiatives referenced.
The following action areas are intended as an ‘on-ramp’ for retailers considering the support they can provide to customers and employees.
1. Engaging employees on climate change
The retail industry is the largest private sector employer in the UK. In 2017 the sector employed 2.8 million people, meaning nearly one in every ten people works in the retail industry. Retail employees are on the front line in reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. The actions they take – at work and when at home – and the information they provide to customers, will shape the success of the industry in decarbonising.
Engaging employees on the climate is a critical short-term action for the industry. This can mean:
- Providing information and training: Making sure employees have the information that they need to understand the climate emergency is vital, and this can be achieved through staff induction, engagement programmes, and targeted training. Training should also include details of the company’s strategic climate aims, and how employees can change behaviours and take action to support this, including specific tools and protocols for employees in key roles.
- Incentivising and supporting employee-driven initiatives: In addition to the role of top-down target-setting, employees can be critical to spotting opportunities for change at local level, and driving forward initiatives. This can be facilitated through effective management and appropriate incentives, e.g. by appointing champions or giving budget for energy saving ideas.
- Facilitating low carbon employee travel: This can be through encouraging use of public transport (e.g. season ticket loans), supporting walking and cycling (e.g. by supporting local cycle infrastructure like bicycle paths, providing secure cycle parking, and Bike To Work cycle financing schemes), and providing on-site electric vehicle charging.
- Inspiring change: Employees increasingly want to work for companies taking decisive action on climate change. Effectively communicating sustainability programmes and engaging and empowering employees through company wide initiatives and celebrations of success can motivate and inspire staff to be part of the sustainability journey.
There is clearly work to be done in this area. The 2018 Carbon Commitment Report found that over 60% of junior employees thought employers were not doing enough to cut carbon footprints, and 74% had no idea what their employer’s carbon reduction targets were. 66% would support a bonus incentive scheme to cut workplace emissions, but only 4% of businesses had this in place.
2. Helping customers make low carbon choices
The decisions that customers make about what products to buy, how to use them and how to dispose of them after use have a fundamental impact on carbon emissions. The retail industry plays a critical role in helping customers make low carbon choices. Retailers can help customers by:
A. Providing climate guidance: Providing customers with information about climate change, the products that they are buying, and how to reduce emissions. While customers are keen to act on climate change, there is a lack of knowledge on what they can do practically. Retailers are trusted and effective communicators to customers and can help customers understand the climate emergency and the simple steps they can take at home to reduce emissions.
B. Providing climate information at the point of sale: Customer research suggests that UK Shoppers want information on the climate impact of the products they buy. According to a study commissioned by the UK Committee on Climate Change, almost three-quarters of UK shoppers want information on the climate impacts of their foods to help them make more informed choices. Providing information on climate footprints on pack (or online for online retailers) would enable customers to make informed choices of lower-impact products.
C. Offering low carbon and net zero products: Retailers can make a significant impact on customer climate impacts by improving the carbon footprint of the products they sell. There is great potential to offer lower carbon or zero carbon products, with many producers starting to innovate and improve their offers in these areas. Retailers can look at the products that they buy to see if there are producers who are offering lower carbon options. This is particularly important in categories where there may be significant climate impacts, for example peat-based compost.
D. Providing guidance on product use: There is potential for significant emission reductions in helping customers to use products in ways that limit energy use. Key areas of opportunity include:
a. For electrical equipment: Helping customers to know how to use energy saving features.
b. Clothes and washing: Advising customers on washing techniques that reduce energy consumption, including low temperature washing, for example through supporting the I Prefer 30
E. For personal care products: Helping signpost advice on reducing the impacts of bathing, showering and water consumption. This might include supporting the Love Water
3. Healthy and sustainable diets
In order to address the climate emergency, diets in the UK will need to shift substantially. The UK Committee on Climate Change has for example recommended that in order for the UK to reach net zero, beef, lamb and dairy consumption will need to shrink by 20% per capita by 2050 – and citizens participating in the recent UK Climate Assembly proposed a reduction in meat and dairy consumption (driven by education) of between 20% and 40%.
Recent research suggests that by shifting to diets in line with the Government’s Eatwell guidelines, dietary greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by up to 30% whilst also delivering significant health benefits, including reducing the incidence of obesity and other diet related disease. WWF recommends a number of principles to lower the carbon impact of diets. They propose a shift to diets that: include more plant based products; have greater variety; produce less food waste; moderate consumption of red and white meat; include products certified to credible sustainability standards; and that include fewer products high in fat, salt and sugar.
Ultimately, a key aim for retailers should be to increase the proportion of plant-based products sold. Retailers can support the transformation by acting in the following areas:
A. Broadening choice: Increasing the range of plant-based products available, including in ready meals and meat and dairy replacements.
B. Innovating: Accelerating the development and commercialisation of new low carbon foods. This might include the development of blended (meat and plant-based) products.
C. Guiding choices: Helping customers understand the health and environmental benefits of more sustainable diets and guiding their choices. This might include scaling up the use of nutrition labels, using third party certification or providing environmental product information.
4. Shifting to a circular economy
Retailers play an important role in supporting the transition to a circular economy. Shifting from traditional ‘take-make-waste’ models to a circular use of products and materials can reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that circular economy strategies in just five areas of the global economy – cement, aluminium, steel, plastics, and food – could cut 9.3 billion tCO2e by 2050. This would be equivalent to eliminating all emissions from transport. The reductions available include savings from designing out waste and pollution across the value chain, and from keeping products and materials in use to retain the embodied energy in products and materials.
Retailers can support shifts to the circular economy in the short term by action in the following areas:
A. Extend product life: Retailers can help keep products in use through offerings including extended product warranties and repair services. There are also opportunities for retailers to deploy new business models that can extend product life and reduce material consumption by customers, for example product lease models and secondary or resale businesses. These might be particularly effective models for retailers to reduce waste in challenging areas, for example products returned by customers that cannot be resold in existing channels.
B. Drive down textile waste: Urgent action to increase the lifespan of textiles is particularly important as it will address greenhouse gas emissions in the product value chain, and disposal. Total global greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production are estimated to be 1.2 billion tonnes annually, more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Opportunities for retailers to address unnecessary textile waste and improve recycling include offering repair services, supporting resale of clothes (by increasing the supply and supporting customer demand), and helping provide services to enable collation and recovery of textiles from homes at the end of life.
C. Promote recycling: Retailers have a responsibility to ensure the appropriate end-of-life treatment of the products they sell. Retailers can help customers by ensuring that information is provided on how to recycle (e.g. Through the On Pack Recycling Label scheme), and by providing infrastructure to support collation and recovery of hard to recycle items. For example, Coop have set up recycling points in over 50 stores to help customers recycle flimsy plastic items that are not recyclable in normal municipal systems. Retailers can offer in-store take-back schemes for electrical waste to ensure appropriate disposal (this will soon become mandatory for large retailers). In some areas, deployment of deposit return schemes can also provide an effective way to encourage material recovery and reduce emissions.
D. Adopt packaging reuse and refill systems to reduce single use materials: Packaging has a significant environmental impact, which can account for as much as 25% of a retailer’s footprint. Other impacts of plastic packaging, like its contribution to marine pollution and toxicity, are current areas of particular focus and scrutiny. The benefits for moving away from single use packaging are diverse, particularly for high volume food and other grocery items.
The Reuse: Rethinking Packaging report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation summarises many of the incentives for business to adopt refillable, reusable solutions:
• Reduced transport costs for refills and concentrates
• Lower costs to customers for refills and concentrates
• Greater flexibility and customisation for customers (e.g. the ability to mix flavours or formulas)
• Improved functionality and aesthetics of durable packaging
• User intelligence tracking through smart dispensing systems
The ideal reusable packaging material (from a climate perspective) for retail will depend on multiple factors – weight, sustainability of raw inputs, compatibility with existing manufacturing processes, and potential for substitution with current conventional packaging, among others.
E. Design for circularity: Products can be designed from the outset to consume fewer materials, last longer and be thoughtfully transformed into something new at the end of their useful life. The following design principles offer a guide to creating products that fit a circular model:
• Composed of renewable or recyclable materials
• Standardised to enable maintenance and end-of-life treatment across a range of similar products
• Increased product longevity with the option for ongoing care
• Capable of being repaired, not disposable
• Adaptable for multiple use cases
• Capable of being remanufactured, so that materials and components can become part of new products
• Recyclable, so that materials can return as inputs when their useful lifespan has elapsed
F. Identify opportunities for waste as raw material: The substitution or adoption of waste products as raw inputs for production offer retailers the opportunity to substantially increase circularity. The model of a circular economy depends on minimising disposal by keeping materials in production as long as possible. Where possible, attention should be paid to potentially valuable inputs that are destined for the landfill or other undesirable disposal streams.
G. Offer services over products: In some subsets of the retail sector, delivering services to customers, rather than selling products that meet the same needs, has environmental benefits. Instead of dedicating the raw materials and in-home energy required for every consumer to purchase an individual unit, retailers can retain ownership of the physical product and sell customers a subscription for use. In durable goods, retailers can consider service models that expand the range of options and price points for customers who might otherwise not be interested in a full purchase. Further, profits don’t necessarily stop when customers opt to change models. Retailers can refurbish or touch up products and offer the service to another customer – without the waste that is associated with most upgrades.
In select cases, the benefits are financial as well as environmental. For example, studies on a pay-per-wash model for high-end washing machines demonstrate lower costs to customers and higher profits to the service provider.
5. Tackling food waste
Food waste has a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Not only are unnecessary emissions generated through the production, processing, packaging and transport of wasted food, but also in its disposal. WRAP estimated annual food waste arisings within UK households, hospitality & food service, food manufacture and wholesale sectors in 2018 at around 9.5 million tonnes, 70% of which was intended to be consumed by people (30% being the ‘inedible parts'). This had a value of £19 billion a year and would be associated with more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions associated with the avoidable food waste meant for human consumption represents approximately 4% of the total UK greenhouse gas emissions. The UK Committee on Climate Change recommends that in order for the UK to meet its net zero targets, food waste will need to be reduced by 20% by 2030.
Retailers are in the front line of the fight to reduce food waste and can influence food waste outcomes in a number of ways. There are significant resources available to companies to support food waste reductions, including programmes available through WRAP and its Love Food Hate Waste programme. Food waste within retailer operations is a significant operating cost and there are huge commercial benefits in reducing food losses. Helping customers to act on food waste can help retailers to build customer relationships and reputation.
Retailers can support food waste reductions by:
A. Acting to reduce waste in their own operations: Follow WRAP’s target, measure, act food waste reduction approach.
B. Supporting customers: Provide clear food date labelling and storage advice. Support customers with advice and inspiration on what they can do to reduce waste. Explore innovations, including around food ingredients, portioning, packaging and technology solutions (e.g. supporting food redistribution apps) that can reduce waste.
6. Electrifying customer travel
Road transport is responsible for approximately a fifth of all UK greenhouse gas emissions with travel in private vehicles accounting for over half of this. A significant proportion of emissions relate to travel to retailer sites. Retailers also own and operate significant networks of refilling stations. Retailers have an important role in supporting the electrification of private vehicles. Actions for retailers include:
- Supporting installation of electric vehicle charging points, where space and parking area constraints allow
- Locating new stores at charging stations, to enhance EV drivers’ experience
For existing retail supply of petrol and diesel, steps can be taken to increase efficiencies such as encouraging eco-driving behaviours, supporting maintenance for vehicle efficiency (e.g. tyre pressures) and offering lower carbon fuel mixes. However, ultimately, decarbonising fuel retail will require supporting a rapid shift to electric vehicles.
Longer term transformation for net zero
For the UK retail industry to hit net zero by 2040, retail employees will need to be trained and ready to make changes to workplace practices, customers will need to have made transformations in the way in which they use products and services, and these changes will need to be supported by the rapid decarbonisation of the UK energy system.
The retail industry has a vital role to play in supporting and enabling the shift in lifestyles by providing circular and net zero products and services, and by ensuring that customers have the information they need to make informed choices. To support long term progress, retailers can:
- Invest in systems to inform customers of product impacts and potential product switches that will reduce impacts.
- Coordinate approaches to bring consistent information to customers on climate impacts at point of sale and point of use. This might include developing appropriate carbon labels.
- Coordinate UK wide information campaigns to help customers make the lifestyle shifts necessary to move to net zero.
- Support alignment and convergence in recycling infrastructure and practices in the UK. In particular, ensure that there is provision for recovery of food waste.
- Support the development of circular infrastructure in the UK including for the production of circular feedstocks and material collection, repair, dismantling and recycling infrastructure.
- Pursue innovation opportunities in sustainable food, including in sustainable proteins and novel ingredients including fermentation products.
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 ‘If companies want to meet climate targets, they must take employees on the journey’ (2019) Reuters
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