Making Net Zero Happen

Right, so I’m assuming you’ve all heard talk about “net zero”, and the ambitions of governments around the world to make the carbon emitted into the atmosphere less than the amount taken out of the atmosphere. I’ll also assume that you’re aware that the implications of global warming are becoming more severe and more urgent, according to each scientific analysis we see published. This all has significant personal implications for you and your family, but the question that we are constantly trying to address is: what can we do as convenience store operators to become net zero operators?

First the good news: there are lots of features of convenience store retailing that are fundamentally sustainable, and our model is certainly lower impact than some. More than half of our customers and colleagues walk to stores, and the role we play in selling smaller quantities and pack sizes reduces food waste in people’s homes.

Then there’s the easy stuff – OK it’s not easy but there are things we all agree on. Having more energy efficient lighting, heating and refrigeration is good for profits as well as good for the environment, so if you’re not moving to more efficient equipment, that’s your loss (and most retailers are doing this, so let’s not spend too long here).

And one more bit of good news … your suppliers and supply chain are focused on this agenda, so the carbon footprint of the warehouses you are supplied out of, the vehicles that take product to your store, and the packaging used for the products you sell is being reduced. That’s not to say we can just tick that box, and there are things you can do to help here, but you’re not fighting your supply chain on this, you’re going with the flow of their work towards net zero.

Unfortunately your road to net zero also involves some tougher choices and trade-offs, so what should you do? There are lots of fantastic ideas harvested from right across the retail industry in the Green Guide for SMEs which we have helped to produce with the Retail Sector Council. For a broader picture, have a look at the UK Business Climate Hub and you can hear me discussing all this with colleagues from the retail industry and government in our podcast. For yet more inspiration, our Heart of the Community conference will feature a fantastic panel discussion featuring experts from inside and outside our sector, called One Step Greener.

I’m going to pick out three areas where you can start if you’re a convenience store retailer, and as usual my advice is to start at the store and work out. So, what’s your local environment like and how could that be improved? Litter picks and thoughtful design of the area at the front of your store should already be mainstreamed in your business, but how can you do this with an eye to net zero? Designing green spaces (however small, this really could be one flower pot planted up) can help take (tiny) amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, but they are sustainable in a more profound way if they help inspire people locally to think about redressing the balance between nature and buildings. Not interested in gardening? No problem, you can bet that some of your customers are, and the best place to start is your local primary school to see if you can enlist their help in designing and creating a greener local environment. Also make sure you contact your local council to find out about any grants and support for tree planting.

Then there’s your role in promoting the re-use and re-cycling of the packaging you and other businesses sell. Yes, there are regulatory interventions in place or in development like carrier bag charging (excellent) and deposit return schemes (more challenging, but potentially powerful) but my challenge is how you can make re-use and recycling a feature of what you offer as a store. That might be taking back more materials for recycling, or providing a platform for local people who mend and upcycle products to promote their work, or just promoting battery recycling and other things you are already offering. You can grudgingly do what the legislation tells you to do, or you can make re-use part of your business DNA.

Finally, I mentioned earlier that our suppliers and supply chains are engaged in this agenda, and they most certainly are. But you can help them to become more sustainable, encouraging those who are leading by being receptive to stocking products with less packaging or with a lower impact from the miles the ingredients have travelled and the energy used in their production. That might involve using more local suppliers, or keeping a more active eye on what bigger brands are doing to move towards net zero. It also means calling out products and packaging that take us further away from net zero, and asking the naïve questions about why products have been developed as they have. If you think a product looks over-packaged, your customers will notice too. You do have power here: if your customers kept talking to you about your efforts to meet net zero, you would listen, so you can influence your suppliers as a customer too.

Moving towards net zero isn’t an event or a guide or a podcast, it’s a process that will never actually end but which we have to commit to now. Don’t think of this as “the green thing” or “doing sustainability”, think about the practical steps you can take and make that a permanent part of your business.

This entry was posted by Chris on Wed, 18/08/2021 - 14:08