Richard Walker

Carbon report: must try harder

On the face of it, the update on Iceland’s carbon footprint that we are publishing today linked here contains some pretty good news. Starting from a base line in 2011, we set out to reduce our direct carbon emissions by 30% by 2020 – and we’ve actually achieved a cut of 74%, smashing not only our target for this year but the one for 2030 as well.

Carbon: Our Story So FarBearing in mind that we’ve added a net 181 stores and grown our sales by 36% over the same nine year period, this is certainly real progress. And we’ve done it in ways that are not only good for the environment but often good for our profitability, too – such as switching all our lighting to LEDs, installing automatic lighting controllers, investing in more efficient refrigeration, and maximising the efficiency of our delivery fleet.

As I have observed before, the way to get real buy-in to environmental improvements from your finance department is to show them the benefits to the bottom line. That way you stand more chance of convincing them to do the right thing when it comes at some additional cost, such as our commitment to buy all of our electricity from renewable sources.

So here is an undoubted success story, putting us on track to realise a new target of net zero carbon emissions by 2042, eight years ahead of the UK Government’s own target.

Why, then, is my own verdict that of most schoolteachers down the ages: ‘must try harder’?

Because, if we want to safeguard the future of this planet – or, to be more selfish and specific, humanity’s place on it – we need to be doing even more, and doing it much faster.

Ideally we – and the Government – should be aiming for Net Zero by 2030, not 2042 or 2050.

In Iceland’s case, we’re looking hard at a range of possible carbon offsetting initiatives to help us where reductions are most difficult to achieve, as well as making further cuts in our actual emissions, that should give us a powerful shove in the right direction. While I am a reluctant adopter of offsets, I think they can be used as a stepping stone to a truly zero carbon future.

This is the first time we have published our carbon story, as part of a commitment to be much more transparent about our successes – and failures – in tackling big sustainability issues like plastic reduction and food waste.  We will now focus on how we improve our measurement and reporting in line with industry standards, reviewing the use of Science Based Targets and setting out how we intend to work more closely with suppliers and customers.

The emissions on which we are reporting today – and on which the UK Government target is based – are only those in Scope 1 and 2: direct emissions that we ourselves control, and indirect emissions from the electricity we buy and consume. Scope 3 – which accounts for by far the largest share of the total – comprises all the indirect emissions our business occasions, both upstream and downstream, and this is where the food sector needs to agree new measurement and reporting solutions.  It is good to see experts and businesses coming together urgently to look at how we meet this challenge, convened by the likes of WRAP and the British Retail Consortium.

While the UK has done pretty well at cutting its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, it has largely done so simply by offshoring them to the likes of China. Whilst carbon production in the UK has gone down, our consumption continues to go up and up. All we have done is to shift the problem out of sight by exporting so much of our manufacturing industry.

Much more focus now needs to be applied to cutting carbon emissions as a totality, both in our business and across the country.

Downstream at Iceland we are making good progress in cutting our food waste, which accounts for 8% of the world’s total carbon emissions.

Upstream, we need to apply pressure throughout our supply chain – but I am under no illusion that a food retailer commanding just 2.5% of the UK grocery market can change the world all on its own. That being said, one of the things we will do next is to measure the carbon attributed to our own label packaging, and share that data with the sector.

Scope 3 carbon reduction is an issue that requires governmental action, and diplomatic pressure, to ensure the maintenance and improvement of high standards throughout the food supply chain, for the protection of consumers, animal welfare and the environment alike. Zero deforestation import standards, for example, might be a move in the right direction.

With Brexit and a potential US trade deal very much in focus, much hot air is being generated by the symbolic issue of chlorinated chicken. The ‘so what?’ argument that we all happily eat chlorinated salad misses the point that the problem is not with the stuff in which the chicken is washed, but the lower animal welfare and hygiene standards that this washing conceals.

I’m a big fan of cheap food – I have many customers who depend upon it – but I’m an even bigger fan of quality food, and of agricultural practices that do not cause avoidable harm to animals or the environment.

Which is why I am currently urging all those consumers and politicians who are expressing concern about this issue to fight hard to maintain the highest possible standards for all the food we import. We can’t risk a global trade war by imposing high new tariffs to protect our domestic producers and consumers, but we can certainly fight wholeheartedly for high import standards.

The environment matters above all else to our futures, and climate change must be arrested as a matter of the utmost urgency. Cutting corners and lowering standards can never be the way to achieve this.

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