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Friends of the Earth gave a cautious welcome to Tesco's new environment fund, announced today, but said the supermarket giant still had a very long way to go if it was serious about greening its operations.

The supermarket chain, which today announced record profits of £2.21 billion, is investing £100 million in its "environment fund".

Friends of the Earth Supermarket Campaigner Sandra Bell said:

"It is welcome news that any company is taking action to tackle its carbon emissions, but Tesco still has a long way to go. If it is to make a genuine contribution to tackling climate change, Tesco would have to make more fundamental changes to the way it does business. There is no commitment here to source more food locally, instead of flying it in from around the world and trucking it unecessarily up and down the country.

"Tesco is still a long way from being a truly green company. Given its rapid growth, its commitment to sourcing cheap food, and the threat it poses to independent retailers, it is hard to see how it is ever going to get there."

The environmental group added that shoppers wishing to reduce the environmental impact of their grocery shopping should do their shopping at local shops and farmers markets instead of Tesco.

Friends of the Earth said Tesco would need to address a number of key areas if it was serious about reducing its environmental impacts. These include moving away from car-dependent stores, switching from its global supply chain, radically improving energy efficiency in its stores, and cleaning up its supply chains. Tesco has refused to join the only industry initiative to clean up supplies of palm oil - despite the threat posed to the survival of the orang-utan from the rapidly expanding palm oil industry.

Friends of the Earth said Tesco is continuing to build huge new stores geared up to people shopping by car, with the proportion of floor space taken up by hypermarkets (Tesco Extras) more than tripling over the last five years. Work for DEFRA suggests that car use for food shopping results in costs to society of more than £3.5billion per year from traffic emissions, noise, accidents and congestion.

Tesco's centralised distribution system means food travels around the country before ending up on the store shelves. A report for the Liberal Democrats found that the lorries of the nine major supermarkets travel a total of 670 million miles per year, equivalent to nearly four return trips to the moon every day.

Tesco also imports food over vast distances - as the UK's market leader Tesco is responsible for a significant amount of the food imported into the country. In just 3 years to 2002 food freight (by value) increased by 47% - the vast majority of which was shipped in dedicated freight planes.

Tesco could cut down on its energy use by giving more space to home-grown fruit. Tropical fruits imported by plane use over thirty times more energy per kilo than home-grown apples. Instead of supporting British farmers, Tesco's mission to deliver cheap food for shoppers has pushed prices to farmers down so low that some are on the brink of bankruptcy.

Tesco's new "Extras"stores are extremely inefficient in terms of energy use. A survey by Sheffield Hallam University found that large superstores are the most energy inefficient buildings in the retail/light industrial sector, despite the relatively new building stock. Taking into account the average size of buildings, the amount of climate changing emissions from superstores compares very badly to those of other food businesses, emitting three times more carbon dioxide than a greengrocers, per square foot.

It would take more than 60 greengrocers to match the carbon dioxide emissions from a single average superstore.

Tesco could also cut down on the amount of food wasted and the amount of packaging used. It is estimated that between 40 and 50 per cent of raw vegetables and salad (by weight) are rejected at some stage of the production line before reaching the shopper. Tesco was among the supermarkets found to be rejecting apples purely on cosmetic grounds in a Friends of the Earth survey of fruit growers.

Packaging makes up nearly a quarter of household waste and 70 per cent of that is food related. Retailer specifications determine how much packaging is used. Food packaging such as plastic wrapping can be difficult to recycle. Plastic production uses eight per cent of the world's oil - four per cent as raw material and four per cent as energy for the process. To make a real difference retailers should be cutting down on the amount of plastic used.

Between them the UK's biggest supermarkets distribute some 15 billion plastic bags which end up in landfill.

Tesco is also contributing to deforestation through its reliance on palm oil, a cheap vegetable oil found in more than 1,000 products that the store sells. Palm oil plantations are now the major cause of rainforest clearance in Indonesia and Malaysia, threatening some of the world's richest wildlife forests and endangering native species including the orang-utan. Tesco has failed to sign up to minimum standards for palm oil production or join a roundtable on sustainability in palm oil.

Friends of the Earth also warned that Tesco's growth comes at the expense of smaller high street shops that are more likely to attract shoppers on foot and source food locally. Communities around the UK are opposing the opening of new Tesco stores. But Friends of the Earth says action is needed urgently from the Government and competition authorities to curb the retail giants power and growth and create an environment in which smaller retailers can flourish again. The environmental group also wants new legislation for companies which make them responsible for the environmental impacts of their business.

Commenting on Tesco's record profits, Sandra Bell added:

"Tesco's booming profits come at a cost with consumers, farmers and our environment paying the price. It is time to put the breaks on the Tesco juggernaut. The Government and competition authorities must recognise the value of small shops to local communities and create an environment that allows retail choice to flourish."

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If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.


Published by Friends of the Earth Trust