UK retail’s 2040 zero-carbon target – how can the industry make sure it’s met?

UK retail has set itself an ambitious goal: achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040. This doesn’t just apply to UK-based operations, but also across retailer supply chains. 

It’s a tall order, but far from unobtainable. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said that UK consumers should expect the items they buy to be produced with as little impact on the environment as possible by 2040. 

The BRC has created a Climate Action Roadmap specifically for retailers. As the Grocer notes, the zero-carbon goal puts the sector 10 years ahead of the government’s 2050 net-zero pledge.

BRC head of sustainability, Peter Andrews, hailed the roadmap as ground-breaking as it includes supply chains. Up until this point, carbon roadmaps had focused solely on retailers’ own operational emissions. 

“We recognise as retailers the biggest impact we have on the planet in terms of climate emissions is through our supply chains,” Andrews acknowledged. “It’s about 90% of our impact.”

The BRC worked alongside sustainability advisory firms and major retail organisations to create the map, which consists of five pathways along which UK retail must progress. 

The initial three pathways are: putting greenhouse gas data at the core of business decisions; moving sites including stores to renewable energy sources; and moving to low-carbon logistics particularly in road freight. 

The fourth pathway hones in on the supply chain. It involves examining the raw materials being specified, manufactured and put into products and touching on all areas of that, from recycled content to deforestation and more. The fifth pathway brings everything together by assisting consumers and staff in living low-carbon lifestyles. 

As it’s important for short-term progress to be tracked, the roadmap has five-year ‘milestones’ as part of each pathway. Here’s an example: 

  • Pathway one – ensure retailers measure and publicly release greenhouse gas emissions by 2025
  • Pathway two – 100% renewable electricity by 2030 
  • Pathway three – covering logistics, expects 100% zero-carbon heavy goods vehicles by 2035
  • Pathway four – for the supply chain, expecting zero deforestation from major commodities by 2030 
  • Pathway five – employee engagement initiatives and more plant-based food sales across the next five years

Andrews says there may be barriers to the roadmap, such as the quality of government data. “That’s going to be one of the focuses for next year: how do we work with the government to make sure that data is captured effectively and that we can really track and measure progress against it?”

So far the roadmap has received over 60 signatories from retailers including Sainsbury’s, M&S, John Lewis and Asda, though Andrew says this number is bound to grow. 

“We’re looking at the big systemic barriers facing retailers to decarbonise and if we solve most of those then it should enable the entire industry to move things forward faster,” Andrews said.

The Delta Group is already doing its bit. We’re now using 100% green electricity, have changed lighting in our factories to LED which has cut energy consumption by 90%, and are on the Gas carbon offset scheme, as part of the UN Market Zero Carbon initiative. We have a segregated waste stream now and close loop (where technically suitable), and we also close loop our printing plates across two of our sites. 

We will be soon unveiling more on our sustainability drive. So watch this space…