COMMENT: It’s now or never for UK retail to combat climate change

While retail is no doubt one of the UK's most environmentally-conscious industries, BRC boss Helen Dickinson says there is still plenty of scope for improvement when it comes to retailers doing their part in tackling climate change. Especially after last week's code red warning from the IPCC.

COMMENT: It's now or never for UK retail to combat climate change

If this year has taught us anything, it’s the impact climate change can have on our everyday lives. From raging wildfires in Greece, Algeria and other parts of the Mediterranean to flooding in Germany, Belgium and across the UK. Wherever you live, the drastic effects can be seen and felt.

Last week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a sober assessment of our planet’s future. In a report dubbed “a code red for humanity”, it found that the world’s average surface temperature was 1.09°C higher in the 10 years between 2011-2020 than the 50 years between 1850-1900.

The challenge to keep global temperature increases below 1.5°C – as agreed by the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 – requires the coordinated effort of every person, every business and every country across the world.

READ MORE: What can retailers learn from the IPCC Report 2021?

As the UK’s largest private sector employer, serving 67 million people, retail is among the most climate-conscious industries. Retailers have taken a lead in reducing the environmental impact of both their own operations and supporting improvements along supply chains and with customers. But the industry must do more.

The products consumers buy contribute 30 per cent of the carbon footprint of each of us, meaning retail can play a huge role in helping us reduce our emissions. It’s a big challenge but also an opportunity to change the way we live for the better.

According to our data, BRC members have smashed their 2020 carbon reduction targets with emissions falling by 49 per cent since 2005. This exceeds the target of a 25 per cent absolute reduction.

“Retail is among the most climate-conscious industries… But the industry must do more.”

These targets form part of the BRC’s Climate Action Roadmap, launched last September; a clear and decisive statement that the retail industry is ready to take on this challenge – and to be part of the solution.

With over 70 signatories – and counting – we’ve brought together retailers committed to decarbonising their own operations, their supply chains and to support customers to collectively deliver retail’s Net Zero ambition by 2040. 10 years ahead of government targets.

The roadmap is a progressive journey to allow suppliers, business partners and other stakeholders to decarbonise across five pathways:

  • Putting greenhouse gas data at the core of decision making
  • Operating efficient sites powered by renewable energy
  • Moving to low carbon logistics; sourcing sustainably
  • Helping employees and customers to live low carbon lifestyles
  • Continuing to deliver an outstanding retail experience

However, a sustainable future for the industry cannot be achieved by retailers alone. The government must play its part to make this feasible.

Take the roadmap’s latest report, UK Retail Net Zero Vehicle Logistics. Logistics is the vital link between raw material production, manufacturing, retailers and customers, in which transport and storage facilities deliver products quickly and efficiently throughout global supply chains. Yet, carbon emissions from transportation remain a significant source of carbon emissions.

Retailers are making progress to address this issue, with logistics typically accounting for less than 10 per cent of a retailer’s total carbon footprint. But there is plenty of scope for improvement.

“The government must play its part to make this feasible.”

The report commissioned by the BRC and DP World showed that only one quarter of retailers were operating green fuelled vehicles on a large scale. We need the government to encourage the take up of green technologies, providing financial incentives for firms to switch over and ensuring the charging and fuelling infrastructure is in place across major routes.

The government’s newly launched Hydrogen Strategy is a step in the right direction. It is now essential that we see accelerated progress on infrastructure and new HGVs to allow time for retailers to plan for the next generation of delivery vehicles. Time is already pressing.

With COP26 fast approaching and the IPCC’s stark warning ringing loud and clear, we have a duty to ensure the world’s governments commit to climate change action and hold them accountable in the years to come. The UK must play a leading role in solving the climate crisis, with our industry forming a key part of that.

It is undoubtedly a mammoth task, particularly in terms of scale and the collaboration required but it is also an opportunity for change. The collective voice of retail has the potential to influence future policy, the actions of businesses, customers and the scale to change global supply chains for the better.

Together with the government, we can make a difference. It’s now or never.

Helen Dickinson is the CEO of the British Retail Consortium

Click here to sign up to Retail Gazette’s free daily email newsletter


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here