Over the past several years, the definition of “sustainability” has evolved significantly in the food retail sector. The conversation is expanding beyond the typical carbon footprint concerns — such as transitioning to lower global-warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, reducing refrigerant leaks and improving energy efficiency — to a more holistic view of sustainability. From farm to fork, retailers are evaluating nearly every aspect of their supply chains within an all-encompassing sustainability context.
As the same time, discerning consumers are asking for more sustainable practices from the food retail supply chain. They’re seeking organic natural foods, green packaging, and eco-friendly food sourcing and processing methods. Aligning with these consumer preferences has quickly become a competitive differentiator.
Today, many retailers are setting short- and long-term goals to meet net-zero and minimized greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. These efforts put them at the center of major environmental megatrends, including:
- Phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants
- Electrification of transport vehicles and refrigeration
- Integration of renewable energy sources
- Reducing food waste
By embracing environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) commitments within their organizations, food retailers are defining a path to net zero, driving sustainability initiatives and complying with regulations along the way. Each organization has unique targets and priorities, so it’s important to remember that your progress along this journey must also align with your operational and/or organizational preferences
Defining Net Zero, the Scope of Emissions and Sustainability Targets
In terms of setting targets, global climate initiatives such as the Paris Climate Accord have established 2050 as the year when countries, institutions and companies should strive to achieve net zero. Already, some food retailers are pledging to meet even more aggressive net zero timelines, such as 2040.
“Net zero” simply means consuming only as much energy as is produced, i.e., balancing the reduction of GHG emissions with carbon-offset strategies to achieve a carbon-neutral operating footprint. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using science-based targets as a common framework to help retailers set and meet their own goals.
Total corporate GHG emissions are categorized within three primary sources. “Scopes 1 and 2” refer to GHG emissions originating from a company’s own operational footprint. “Scope 3” expands the scope to their larger supply chains.
“Scope 1” refers to direct GHG emissions such as refrigerant leaks from commercial refrigeration and HVAC equipment used in retail stores and storage and distribution facilities. Thus, transitioning to lower-GWP refrigerant alternatives and minimizing leaks fall under Scope 1. Today, these are becoming top priorities for most retailers.
Scope 1 also considers the direct emissions from fuel combustion in boiler furnaces and fleet vehicles. To address these GHG emission sources, retailers are making plans to electrify transport vehicles and shipping container refrigeration units as part of their longer-term efforts.
“Scope 2” addresses indirect GHG emissions from all sources of energy consumption, including refrigeration, HVAC and lighting. Supermarkets are committing to multiple strategies to reduce indirect GHG emissions:
- Installing LED lighting
- Leveraging advanced energy management controls and tools
- Integrating wind, solar and other locally generated renewable energy sources
- Retrofitting equipment to ensure optimal energy performance with variable-frequency drives (VFDs) and other capacity modulation strategies
“Scope 3” GHG emissions — which refer to both direct and indirect sources from all producers and providers within a company’s supply chain — are among the most challenging to identify and control. These include emissions occurring after goods are sold, throughout product lifecycles and, ultimately, disposal. Retailers are addressing Scope 3 emissions through the following efforts:
- Electrification of third-party logistics (3PL) and transportation companies
- Sourcing eco-friendly packaging materials for house brands
- Implementing more sustainable sourcing practices
Reducing food waste has become a key pillar in retailers’ sustainability efforts. Many companies are seeking certification from the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA).
Helping Retailers Achieve Their Sustainability Goals
For more than a decade, we’ve been developing eco-friendly, energy-efficient refrigeration technologies designed to help retailers reduce both Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions. Today, we’re developing a variety of solutions that use next-generation, lower-GWP refrigerants — such as CO2, R-290 and emerging A2Ls — to deliver GHG emission reductions, including compression, VFDs, controls and leak detection.
The Copeland E3 supervisory control system delivers advanced energy and facility management capabilities to help retailers implement energy optimization techniques within a centralized control. In addition, many leading retailers and producers rely on Copeland’s GO real-time trackers and Oversight software and services to track in-transit shipment temperatures and locations in real time.
Regardless of your company’s current progress on its path to net zero, Copeland is ready to help you take the next steps and define your short- and long-term decarbonization strategies. Connect with our sustainability experts to get help on your journey.