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The Independent: Tesco follows M&S with climate change move

By Susie Mesure, Retail Correspondent
Published: 16 January 2007

Tesco is to put its customers at the heart of its latest green initiative when it unveils its new strategy to combat climate change on Thursday.

The move by Britain’s biggest grocer, which is today tipped to issue a strong Christmas trading update, will cap the busiest week yet for retailers jostling for pole position in the race to save the environment.

Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco’s chief executive, wants to help empower consumers to cut their carbon footprints. His speech, which will be delivered to a roomful of environmentalists and businessmen at an event hosted by the sustainable development charity Forum for the Future, is expected to list ways shoppers can do their bit by buying home-grown produce.

Tesco has already stated its corporate commitment towards reducing climate change by, for example, pledging to invest £100m in sustainable environmental technology; halving its energy use per square foot by 2010; and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced per case of product delivered by 30 per cent by 2009.

But Tesco’s plans have so far stopped well short of promising to make its business carbon neutral – the pledge made by Marks & Spencer in the £200m “eco-plan” it unveiled yesterday.

Stuart Rose, M&S’s chief executive, said he had “signed my life away in blood” in terms of the group’s commitment to tackle the “enormous challenges of climate change and waste”. Calls from private investors flooded the lines to his office yesterday, he said, welcoming the move, despite the inevitable cost.

M&S intends to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2012 by using more renewable energy and doubling the amount of food sourced from the UK and Ireland within 12 months. It will only offset its energy needs “as a last resort” to cover the environmental hit from air freighting products such as out-of-season blueberries to its stores.

It intends to slap a sticker on all products flown in by air to see if that encourages shoppers to switch instead to locally-grown alternatives. “Customers can vote with their feet. We will audit it,” Mr Rose said. The retailer will also cut the amount of packaging it uses by a quarter and only use materials that are easy to recycle or compost on the packets around its ready meals and pre-chopped vegetables.

M&S’s plan to give itself a green healthcheck drew mixed reaction from environmental and sustainable lobby groups.

Jonathan Porritt, Forum for the Future’s founder director, said: “It is not cheap bandwagoning for the sake of it. It would be mad to do anything other than welcome it.” Blake Lee-Harwood, campaign director at Greenpeace, said M&S had made the “best stab yet” at attempting to create a sustainable society. But he added: “This is a step forward, not a revolution. They are not changing the business model.”

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, urged other businesses to follow the practical steps M&S was taking to cut its waste and reduce its carbon emissions. But the lobby group’s food campaigner Sandra Bell said supermarkets needed to start tackling the “fundamental issue about the way they do business and the way they treat their suppliers”, which left farmers with “far less money to invest in environmental improvements”.

The green and the not-so-green

Companies doing relatively well in the fight against climate change:

* Unilever
* Cadbury Schweppes
* Diageo
* Tesco
* BP
* Royal Dutch/Shell
* Rio Tinto

And those who need to work on cutting their emissions:

* Standard Chartered
* Scottish & Southern
* SABMiller
* Royal Bank of Scotland
* Prudential
* O2
* Lloyds TSB
* British American Tobacco and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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