Food retail’s impact on climate change – like climate change’s impact on food retail – is growing, fast.
What’s going on?
With climate change driven by pressures on nature – notably from pollution, over-exploitation, and land use change – food retail is both a contributor to and a victim of this major problem.
Food retail is responsible for approximately 3% of electricity consumption and 1% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, with large retail spaces requiring significant cooling and heating to balance demands for fresh food and customer comfort.[i]
Emissions come from across the retail value chain, spanning:
- Scope 1 – fuel combustion, company vehicles and fugitive emissions
- Scope 2 – purchased electricity, heat and steam
- Scope 3 – purchased goods and services, business travel, employee commuting, waste disposal, use of sold products, transportation and distribution up and downstream, investments, and leased assets and franchises emissions
The greatest source of the food retail industry’s greenhouse gas emissions is Scope 3 emissions – a significant challenge, including store level emissions and food miles emissions.
Meanwhile, the effects of climate change are being felt across the retail industry.
In the global supply chain, changes to climate patterns and more extreme weather events are forcing adaptations to agricultural practices and technologies, causing adjustments to sourcing arrangements, and threatening the longer-term security of the supply of key commodities.
The UK is heavily reliant on imported fruit and vegetables – it imports more than 80% of the fruit it needs, and 50% of vegetables consumed annually – and therefore, climatic shocks to the global food system can impact heavily. In early 2017, flooding in south-east Spain and cold temperatures in Italy led to rationing and price increases of 25% to 300% across the UK. [ii]
In the UK, climate change will increasingly pose operational challenges to retailers, with changing weather patterns requiring adjustments to retail buildings, logistics and infrastructure.
Increases in extreme weather patterns, for example, variations in rainfall, and changing annual temperatures will impact the occurrence and persistence of bacteria, viruses, parasites, harmful algae, fungi and their vectors in UK-produced crops and livestock.
Further, sea level rise and increased extreme weather events place retail and supply chain infrastructure in vulnerable areas at greater risk of flooding and increase the cost of insurance. Climate-related economic disruption has the potential for knock-on impacts on consumer spending.
Meanwhile, UK customers’ expectations are changing leaving companies not acting on climate change exposed to reputational risks.
- Heavy rainfall and dry summers are contributing to a continued decline in crop yield. Heavy winter rainfall caused UK wheat yields to drop by 40% in 2020 year on year. [iii]
- Some studies project an average 20% rise in food prices by 2050 due to climate change impacts on food security.[iii]
- Refrigeration is the largest energy load in a supermarket, accounting for 50-60% of electricity consumption.[v]
- Eating food produced locally and in season – seasonal seafood, for example – helps minimise food miles (the distance food items travel from where they are grown to where they are eaten, which is one factor in calculating a food’s environmental impact).[vi]
Get nature positive
There are things that can be done at other stages of the food supply chain.
For example, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) provides a framework for companies to report what climate change risks impact their company, its suppliers and competitors, and what they’re doing about it. Read more here.
Further, companies should be planning for at least a 2 degree celsius increase in global average temperatures, with considerations for 4 degrees.
Inspired by steps retail businesses are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.
Explore the actions your business can take to join the journey to nature positivity.