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Report Card On ‘Green-ness’ Of UK Stores

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 18, 2007

The BBC reports that a self-proclaimed consumer advocacy group, the National Consumer Council, is demanding the supermarkets in the UK go greener:

UK SUPERMARKETS ‘MUST GO GREENER’

Supermarkets have gone “greener”, but still need to do more to help customers reduce their environmental impact, according to a report.

Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer (M&S) were given a B grade for their efforts in a survey of eight big food retailers by the National Consumer Council (NCC).

Tesco and ASDA were awarded a C grade, while Morrisons, Somerfield and the Co-Op received D grades.

The NCC said chains must do more to cut plastic bag use and recycle packaging.

They were also urged to increase the amount of organic and locally sourced food on their shelves.

Chair of the NCC Larry Whitty said: “NCC’s research has spotted important signs of progress right across the market, with all stores now beginning to embrace sustainability.

“But much remains to be done if supermarkets are to become truly green grocers.”

Recycling points

Tesco was said to be showing “potential”, and along with Somerfield, was said to be leading the way in offering customers incentives to bring back used carrier bags.

The Co-op and M&S, on the other hand, were the only supermarkets not to have plastic bag recycling points in stores.

The NCC said all retailers must do more to cut plastic bag use, for example by removing bags altogether from checkouts.

M&S and Sainsbury’s were found to have done the most to use recycled and Forest Stewardship Council-certified content in packaging, but overall the NCC was “disappointed” by progress in this area.

It said most stores offered “very little choice” of organic produce, and some actually slipped in their ratings for stocking and promoting in-season vegetables and organic fresh produce.

While there were “some improvements” in the availability of sustainably-sourced fish in all chains, there was little progress in promoting these products.

ASDA’s “Smart Price” value fish fingers were named the consumer group’s green product of the year because they are made from sustainably-sourced pollock.

Andy Bond, ASDA chief executive officer, said the chain was “delighted”, adding: “Customers tell us they want to do the right thing, but don’t want to pay more for the privilege.”

Tesco offered the cheapest energy-efficient light bulbs at the time of the survey, but was “let down by a lack of information in store and on helplines”, the NCC said.

The “Green Grocers?” report was based on a survey carried out in April.

ASDA Chief Executive Officer Andy Bond had the best quote of the piece in saying: “Customers tell us they want to do the right thing, but don’t want to pay more for the privilege.” The quote is intriguing in two ways; first because we can all agree that consumers, by and large, want to “do the right thing,” yet that leaves open the question of precisely what the right thing might be.

The quote also is intriguing as the fact that consumers don’t want to make any financial sacrifice to see this happen, which implies they don’t see much importance in it.

And, in fact, if you read the actual report, you realize that the NCC feels no need to even pretend to argue that the various things it proposes are good for the world or sustainable or anything else.

The very first criteria the NCC applies to retailers is this:

1. Climate change: reducing CO2 emissions

* Seasonal food availability, promotion and signposting of ten in-season UK-sourced vegetables

Look at how deftly they slip “UK-sourced vegetables” into a point on climate change. If the concern is food miles, well much of France is far closer to the population centers of England than iare hinterlands of Scotland. And if the concern is overall carbon footprint, well, there is zero evidence that UK-grown food, which after all involves supporting UK workers in a western lifestyle, offers a lower carbon footprint than plenty of other supply sources.

The whole report is like this. Things such as organic and UK-produced food are assumed to be better for the world without any evidence being presented.

Perhaps ASDA’s CEO should have more respect for his shoppers. If the shoppers don’t won’t to pay for something, it may be because they see it as worthless.

And the NCC should feel an obligation to explain the rationale behind its analysis and not just give out report cards.

You can read the whole report here.

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