Here, Sarah Anderson investigates the energy efficiency of your local supermarket, touching on the urgency of climate change, global examples and what’s happening in the UK
We have seen a dramatic rise in consciousness regarding the volume of damage that we have exerted on the environment over the past few years. Whether it is through disruptive protests like that carried out by Extinction Rebellion, powerful documentaries by David Attenborough or increasing pressure from generation Z, it seems that the country is beginning to wake up to the irreversibility of our actions on the earth.
According to research from the Global Carbon Project, carbon emissions are still growing at an exponential rate. In 2018 they reached a record high of 2.7% – the fastest rate of growth experienced in over seven years. It is clear, therefore, that although we might be trying to do our bit in helping to turn around the pending climate crisis, we are still not doing enough.
Supermarkets around the world – leading by example
One of the most significant factors in helping to protect the environment is through being energy efficient, and supermarkets can play a massive part in helping to cut down on carbon emissions. Supermarkets are enormous consumers of energy, through their use of freezers, refrigerators which are constantly being opened, heating and air conditioning, amongst other things.
With the average consumer able to choose where we spend our money on groceries, understanding where our favourite supermarket stands in relation to energy efficiency can and should be important.
Around the world, we are beginning to see more and more supermarkets prioritising energy efficiency and adapting themselves, which is starting to pay dividends to all things green.
Twenty Danish supermarkets now have the technology to allow them to send their surplus heat into local district heating networks. The heat which is produced by supermarket SuperBrugsen on the island of Als in Denmark, is recovered and then sent to homes in the local area. They already use their unwanted heat to heat up their own water system, giving them a financial saving of DKK200,000 (the equivalent to £24,081) while cutting back on their carbon emissions by 34%.
Finland’s pilot supermarket in Oulu consumes just 40% of the energy of a normal UK grocery store. They use a combination of solar power and storing energy to cut down their energy use and can even disconnect their cold chain from the grid occasionally.
According to the Premises Manager of the regional retail firm, Seppo Jakola:
“In this energy-saving pilot supermarket, annual electricity consumption totals 240 kWh per square metre, which is close to the consumption of a normal residence, whereas a normal grocery store consumes 600 kWh a year.”
So, what is happening in the UK and how do British supermarkets compare?
What the UK has achieved so far
Anybody who is living in the UK will be aware of certain measures which have been implemented by supermarkets. The elimination of free plastic bags, changes in packaging to be better recycled and some attempts at reducing the amount of packaging used are some of the smaller efforts that supermarkets are doing.
In the UK, 12% of the country’s carbon emissions are created by Britain’s large, commercial refrigerating systems. Trials have been taking place between Tesco and the University of Lincoln to test whether they can use the stored up energy in freezers to help to provide a ‘virtual battery’ for the country, by cutting the energy when it is not needed as the food is cold enough. The ‘virtual battery’ could potentially harness between 25MW and 50MW if Tesco could scale this across the country.
Back in April this year, Sainsbury’s also announced their partnership with Npower – as their white label deal with British Gas came to a close – in the aim to create a bespoke Energy Saving Scheme. In the scheme, customers are supplied with 100% renewable energy as well as extra Nectar card points for switching.
In the UK we have seen some supermarkets making incremental changes to their operational supply chains in the name of energy efficiency. However, while some changes are better than none and should be celebrated, we should also continue to collectively encourage these retail giants to take more action.
Could most supermarket chains be reluctant to make big changes, as they are unwilling to risk losing customers by reducing convenience or choice?
For supermarket chains that operate both nationally and locally, it can be difficult to know exactly what can be done, especially if there isn’t the budget to work on large-scale trials or enough education surrounding the adoption of an energy-saving philosophy. Energy-saving experts such as Nexus Energy Solutions, are one example of how professional advice can help commercial businesses understand what potential energy-saving solutions are available to them.
Although British supermarkets are beginning to show an interest in cutting down carbon emissions, to be able to really make a difference, it’s time to think bigger. Whilst we are certainly not at the bottom of the list in terms of energy-efficient supermarkets, there is considerably more that our UK retail chains can be doing to protect the future of our planet.
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