Sainsbury’s unveils environmental agenda

Roger Burnley, Sainsbury’s retail & logistics director, revealed the retailer’s latest environmental initiatives at the 2010 IGD Convention.

They included packaging developments; logistical savings; a reduction in food waste; energy efficiencies at store level; plus Make the Difference Days, where it encourages customers to make changes; plus ethical sourcing initiatives.

“We have a big responsibility in the way we run our business, using innovation where we can in stores, products and packaging but also making it easier for both our customers and colleagues to make sustainable choices,” he said.

“We don’t just have to think about environmental performance, we have to to think how our lorries run, how our suppliers operate, how much carbon goes into the construction of our buildings, and the environmental consequences of the products and services we sell and how they can be used.”

On packaging, Burnley said new milk bags now accounted for 10% of sales; switching chopped tomatoes to Tetra Paks had generated huge savings while egg boxes have also been redesigned to use less packaging.

“Excessive packaging is not in anyone’s interest, as it drives cost, but when it is not fit for purpose to protect the product, the consequences are potentially more wasteful,” he said.

Logistics was the area where commercial and environmental benefits were most aligned, said Burnley.

He revealed five Sainsbury’s vehicles run on methane and it has 70 electric vans. As a result, it has reduced CO2 emissions and fuel miles and increased back hauling. At the depots, energy and water usage are both down and its Northampton depot has won a Green Apple Award for built environment and architectural heritage.

At store level, Burnley said Sainsbury’s has opened its first zero carbon extension while its newly developed Crayford store in Kent has doubled in size but with no impact on the carbon footprint.

The store features the retailer’s first geo-exchange system, which captures waste heat to re-heat the store.

Burnley said windmills were increasingly being demanded by planning authorities.

“But in reality, unless you are building a store on top of Helvellyn, their performance and payback don’t always stack up.”

Burnley said requests to finance off-shore windmills would be a preferable alternative.

Make the Difference Days, including a focus on using leftovers and recycling old phone chargers, demonstrated how small shifts in behaviour can make a big change, said Burnley.

On the product front, Burnley said the newly relaunched Taste the Difference range featured a packaging reduction and Sainsbury’s was a leader in areas such as Fairtrade, MSC fish, sustainable palm oil and RSPCA Freedom Food.

“We know our customers want and expect us to take those positions,” he said. “Increasingly customers are motivated by how product is sourced as well as the product itself.”

Looking ahead, Burnley said sourcing maps would look very different in 10 years time and water scarcity will come into play.

“Customers will have more and more choices,” he said. “Some things you can predict, some things you can’t – it’s striking a balance between smart consumers and business decisions; responding to the agenda but driving that agenda as well.”