Chilling Facts: Supermarket Refrigeration and Climate Change
With all the environmental concerns out there, it can be tricky to keep up with everything, let alone take all the information into consideration all the time. One more environmental culprit we can add to the list, however, flies somewhat below the radar: supermarket refrigerators.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a report entitled Chilling Facts, its aim to discover to just what extent supermarket refrigeration is contributing to climate change. The findings are less than reassuring.
The issue technically begins with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a replacement for banned CFCs.
...these gases are up to two thousand times more potent in global warming terms than carbon dioxide, and yet they’re still widely used in air conditioning and chiller cabinets. These systems can leak up to twenty per cent of their contents into the atmosphere each year.
According to the EIA report, these emissions are equal to flying from London to New York 2.5 million times. While the report only investigated UK chains, it can be surmised that supermarkets worldwide are failing the grade and contributing heftily to a changing climate.
The biggest users of HFCs in Britain are the supermarkets. They are responsible for fifty per cent of HFC emissions. Yet research done by the Environmental Investigation Agency has found that so far retailers have been slow to act by switching to natural ‘green freeze’ alternatives such as ammonia or CO2. The EIA is calling on the government to take tougher action on supermarkets and introduce a ban on F Gases.
Points were awarded or deducted for refrigeration in-store, behind the scenes and for transport, as well as for leakages, energy-efficiency, training of refrigeration engineers and future plans.
Somerfield was also awarded nothing for failing to participate.
Waitrose scored worst among the major players, with just 12 points putting them seventh in the list.
Their responses were "vague and uninformative giving the impression they were apathetic and didn't take the issue seriously".
The Chilling Facts report, the first of its kind, said Morrisons (17) also seemed to be lagging "because they refused to participate in the survey".
Campaign co-ordinator Fionnuala Walravens, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said: "The HFCs make up a quarter or more of a supermarket's total carbon footprint, in some cases up to 30%. And this is before you take the energy they use into account.
"To say their response has been lukewarm would be an understatement, although a few are beginning to address it. The biggest problem seems to be that climate-friendly fridges seem to require more highly- skilled engineers, and Marks & Spencer and Tesco are starting training programmes so they will have these.
"We had no choice but to score the budget supermarkets zero because they would not co-operate but Aldi got a point for the work they have been doing in Germany on the issue.
"There is also no information on their websites about energy efficiency targets, unlike the others."
When addressing climate change, some of the biggest causal factors are the easiest to miss.