UK retail co-ops outline climate efforts in their annual reports

Updates on emissions and other sustainability issues from the Co-op Group and the independent societies

The growing environmental crisis, consumer pressure on businesses for more sustainable products, and the co-op movement’s commitment to the UN sustainable development goals have all spurred the retail co-op sector to step up its efforts on the environment.

Efforts across the movement include lobbying support for the community-owned renewable energy sector, in-store energy efficiency measures and work to cut food waste, with partnerships including tie-ups by several retail co-ops with the To Good To Go app.

Here is a round-up of their environmental statements in the latest round of annual reports.

Related: Annual results from the retail co-op sector

The Co-op Group said it has made a commitment to comply with the UK government’s mandate to disclose Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) aligned financial information by 2023.

Last year, it said it During 2022, “worked to identify the physical and transitional risks and opportunities to our business and supply chains from the changing climate, along with the potential impact of policy, technology and market changes as we move to a lower carbon future. We made progress here but recognise that there is more to do in the next year”.

In 2021, it published its Climate Plan for net zero by 2040, with targets across its range of businesses endorsed by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Last year the Group won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development and the Relex Responsible Retailer Award as part of the 2022 Retail Week Awards, recognising initiatives such its soft plastic in-store recycling scheme, and its efforts to make its own brand packaging easily recyclable.

The Group’s figures show that around 75% of polled members regularly used the bin in their local store, with 41% using it once a week, 30% a few times a month and 29% more than once a week. The Group is also trialling in-store tech recycling for old phones and other gadgets.

The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation completed an independent audit of the risks to ocean wildlife in the fisheries that supply the Group, judging it “one of the top retailers in the UK selling sustainable seafood”.

The Funeralcare business continued to invest in environmentally friendly initiatives, such as an electric fleet, including trials for both electric hearses and ambulances.

In 2022, total Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions continued to decrease by 9.58% in 2022, “due to using less energy, less fuel, a decrease in emissions from fugitive refrigerant gases and the UK grid electricity mix generating lower carbon emissions”.

Midcounties Co-op said was continuing with its our Sustainability Plan with a current focus on the environment and energy consumption. Energy-reduction initiatives cut energy use by 8.8% on last year, a saving of 4.1 million kWh, equivalent to 870 tonnes of CO₂ and £1.2m in energy costs.

The society installed energy efficient LED lighting at 121 sites and improved refrigeration at 26 food stores and set up an Energy Reduction Steering Group to help lead on a wide variety of energy saving initiatives – sharing its best practice with presentations at Co-op Congress and workshop with the Plunkett Foundation.

It is also working to drive the community energy sector, investing in projects as a Bristol Energy Co-op through its Younity Kickstarter Accelerator Fund run in partnership with Octopus Energy. It has 227 power purchase agreements in place with community generators which produce enough energy to power around 61,500 homes.

Midcounties emitted 17,219 tonnes of CO₂e in 2022/23 (2021/22: 19,629 tonnes).

Related: More coverage of co-ops and the environment

Central Co-op said it completed the Business in the Community Responsible Tracker for the first time this year. This “looks at all the ways we can impact positively upon the people and places we interact with and covers topics including climate action, inclusion, wellbeing and education”.

It added: “We have committed to reducing our carbon emissions by 90% for 2030 and have now included a carbon metric within the executive bonus structure, building on the successes of 100% renewable electricity, zero-waste to landfill, and our Carbon Trust Triple Standard.”

Total emissions were 23,134 tonnes, down from 25,992 the previous year.

Southern Co-op – which, like the Group, won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise under the category Sustainable Development – updated members on its Climate Action Pathway, which follows SBTi recommendations, and is planning an in-depth review of its targets in 2024. It is committed to cutting absolute greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 compared to 2019, and cutting absolute greenhouse gas emissions associated with its managed trading business by 50% in the same timeframe.

Alongside biodivesity initiatives and in-store energy efficiency tech, solar panels are now in place in 11 locations across the co-op’s business areas with more in planning. On average per site, it expects these to generate in the region of 20,000 kWh per year.

Operational emissions were 11,931 tonnes in 2022, down 10% on 2021.

East of England Co-op installed additional solar panels at its Acle, Brightlingsea and Long Stratton Food stores, which have generated 193,000 kWh, saving around 41 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

It said: “The suitability of solar panels and other environmentally friendly measures are now considered as part of the design process for all our new stores and developments. A further nine sites have already been identified for solar panel installation, with the potential to generate an additional 850,000 kWh per year.”

The society has also trialled switching off our refrigerated beers and wines cabinets to cut energy use – beginning with overnight switch-offs at 78 stores. This was extended to include daytime hours, only switching them on between 2pm and 7pm.

Total emissions for the year were 9,759.59 tonnes, down from 11,117.10 the previous year.

Heart of England Co-op said it continues to explore ways to cut waste, measuring and reporting on the percentage of diverted from landfill. During the year it generated 2,471 tonnes of waste (2022: 2,389 tonnes) of which 45.8% was recycled (2022: 49.8%).

Total emissions for the year were 1,674 tonnes of CO2 (2022: 1,707 tonnes), equivalent to 3.64 tonnes per full-time equivalent employee (2022: 3.54 tonnes), or alternatively 16.68 tonnes per £1m of turnover (2022:17.21 tonnes).

Scotmid Co-op initiatives include its Community Orchard project, working with community groups applying for funding of up to £200 to create their own micro-orchard, helping to improve local environments and create habitat.

It recycled 5,750 tonnes of waste (previous year 6,300) with a residual 36 tonnes passed to landfill, reduced from 40 tonnes last year. Its proportion of waste recycled remains at 99; new initiatives include a colleague giveaway – mainly comprising fresh food to go items.

Total emissions were 8,144 tonnes, down from 9,264 the previous year.

Lincolnshire Co-op – which published its results in September 2022 – has a zero waste to landfill strategy and also offers soft plastic recycling in 86 food stores. Almost all its electricity is sourced from green supplies, but it warned it would be difficult to continue this with its main supplier exiting the commercial energy market.

The society says it is working to move away from gas heating and has solar panels in 10 locations, with more planned this year, and its vehicle fleet is moving to low emission vehicles such as plug in hybrid funeral vehicles and some fully electric vans for our pharmacy deliveries. EV charging points have been installed at 12 food stores with more planned; these drew more than 8,000 visits in the last year.

Total emissions were 2,481, compared to 2,464 the previous year.

Chelmsford Star rolled out 24 voltage optimisation installations in its stores to aid with energy reduction longer term. Of its small company car fleet, 64% are classed as electric or hybrid, compared to 60% last year.

It sources its energy from renewable sources, recycles 99.2% of waste, stores have separate food waste bins for anaerobic digestion, and the society offers soft plastics recycling.

Total emissions were 2,163 tons, up from 1,987 due to increased use of refrigerant gases. Electricity consumption fell 3%.

Channel Islands Co-op said it spent the year “taking stock” of its sustainability and in May, an environmental specialist spent time reviewing its data and creating a baseline carbon footprint report for 2021.

“That baseline report became our starting point for setting our pathway to becoming net zero by 2050 – in line with the 2050 Paris Agreement. Our focus for 2023 is that we will be publishing our first formal sustainability strategy. This will lay out our blueprint for a sustainable future.”

Radstock Co-op said 100% of packaging waste is recycled, while its energy contract supplies renewable electricity.

Total emissions from the year were 848 tonnes. The society has 39 hectares of forest on its farm estate at Hardlington which sequesters around 210 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Tamworth Co-op – being much smaller – said it did not have the same resources to measure environmental performance indicators in the same depth as other co-ops. But it continues to encourage recycling and has joined forces with other independent co-ops to buy energy through inspired once its contract with Co-op Power ends.