Grocery retailers are battling it out to secure a slice of the ‘green market’. As a growing proportion of sales is attributable to environmentally conscious consumers, leading retailers are busy nailing their green credentials to the flag pole.
Tesco has responded to consumer concerns over ‘food miles’ – the distances that food travels to reach our plates – by launching an initiative which will make it the first supermarket chain in the world to assign a ‘carbon label’ to every product it carries. These labels will display the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture, transport and consumption of its products.
The labels will enable consumers to assess the environmental impact of each purchase they make, offering them a ‘carbon calorie-counting’ system which can be used in much the same way as health conscious shoppers use the nutritional information carried. This will open up a new competitive field for the supermarkets as they use their supply chain expertise to deliver low ‘carbon footprint’ merchandise.
The problem is there are no well established means by which the necessary information is gathered. And what’s more, there will undoubtedly be discrepancies over what emissions to include. Tesco are sponsoring academic research with the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, but retailers will need to work together to establish standards that are used by all.
Also setting high standards, Marks and Spencer’s chief executive, Stuart Rose, recently pronounced the company’s enthusiasm for green issues by pledging to spend up to €300 m to make the group carbon neutral by 2012. With such attention at boardroom level, it looks like supermarkets may soon be competing not so much on price as carbon-footprint.