Sainsbury’s has promised to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero over the next 20 years.
The supermarket chain, which is the second largest in the UK, has said it will spend £1bn to reach the target.
It pledged to reduce emissions from areas like refrigeration and transport.
But, while the 2040 target puts Sainsbury’s ahead of rivals, critics noted that it does not extend to the supermarket’s supply network, which accounts for most of its emissions.
Currently, Sainsbury’s produces one million tonnes of carbon each year, although, the supermarket said that figure had fallen by a third in the last 15 years.
Over the next two decades, Sainsbury’s will spend an average of £50m a year on things like converting some of its vehicles to use alternative fuel and redesigning stores to be more energy efficient in order to achieve the goal.
‘Not soon enough’
The plan is one of Mike Coupe’s final actions as the boss of Sainsbury’s. Last week he announced he will step down in May.
“We are committing to reduce our own carbon emissions and become net zero by 2040, ten years ahead of the government’s own targets, because 2050 isn’t soon enough,” he said in a statement.
He said the chain had spent £260m on things like energy-efficient lighting and refrigeration over the last decade.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The 2040 deadline, however, only targets emissions that Sainsbury’s directly controls, like heating and lighting. It does not extend to the firm’s supply chain.
“Direct operations is just the tip of iceberg,” Dexter Galvin from charity, the Carbon Disclosure Project, told the BBC. He said there were no details on supply chain, which he described as a “big gap”.
“[Sainsbury’s is] too late to the party. Tesco and Co-Op have approved targets already including supply chain,” he said.
Mike Childs, head of policy for Friends of the Earth, said: “The influence supermarket chains have over suppliers is also huge – they must use that to encourage better environmental standards while still ensuring a fair deal for farmers.”
While governments struggle to meet their ambitions on climate change, many businesses are putting words into action. In fact, there’s something of a climate “arms race” between consumer-facing firms like supermarkets.
Sainsbury’s promise of net zero emissions by 2040 is a full decade earlier than Tesco’s target.
But the plan’s not quite as impressive as it seems because Sainsbury’s target applies only to its own emissions – NOT the much higher emissions of its suppliers. The full accounting will come later, the firm says.
There’s a target on water too – Sainsbury’s says it’s reducing water usage by capturing rain on roofs, and recycling water from car washes and ice on fish counters.
But most radical is its initiative to halve plastic packaging by 2025. This is said to be very ambitious.
Experts warn, though, that in their rush to ban plastic, firms shouldn’t use substitutes that are even worse for the planet.
Sainsbury’s said it will work with suppliers to set their own “ambitious” net zero commitments.
And Mr Childs, from Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s encouraging to see Sainsbury’s stepping up to the plate on the climate emergency – the rapid transition to a net zero economy is urgently required.
“Supermarkets have a huge influence on our personal carbon footprints, so the more they can do to embrace and encourage greener lifestyles the better for us all.”
Rival, Tesco has said it plans to achieve net zero by 2050, 10 years later than Sainsbury’s. However, it has also set targets for its suppliers demanding they reduce carbon emissions by 7% this year.