What Conclusions Can We Draw From Tesco Dropping its Carbon Footprint Labeling?

Written by Moritz Bühner   // February 4, 2012  

ktf_tesco

A week ago, the Guardian published the news that the Tesco grocery store chain dropped its plan to put a carbon label on all of its products. I felt a little sorry for the carbon trust, but I wasn’t surprised at all. Why? Because I didn’t expect a true commitment to sustainability from Tesco in the first place. In this article, I tell you why, and I explain the possible conclusions you can draw from this.

1. Protected by Oligopoly, Supermarket Chains Will Never Foster Sustainability

Like all the players in the oligopoly of the supermarket business, the Britain-based multinational grocery retailer works under imperfect market conditions. Following the logic of economies of scale, these businesses have expanded so radically that there are only a handful of competitors left. This oligopolistic situation creates a market that is not actually a market. Very often, suppliers are completely at the buying agent’s mercy because there is no realistic alternative to marketing their products other than to the giant. As a matter of fact, the economic disequilibrium leads to an advantage for the supermarket’s financial situation in that it need not allow any spare room for social or ecological values.

Moreover, in many villages, and even small towns, there is only one local retailer left – one of the oligopoly players. As a result, there is no competition. When there is no competition, customers have only one choice – go to this store or grow their food themselves. (Or go on hunger strike, of course). Environmentally concerned customers who lack the motivation or the space for home grown foods automatically support the “local” store – whether it has an effective environmental policy or not. Why should one of these players bother about sustainability, when they do not gain a competitive edge from it?

“The Grocer” magazine’s article, first to deal with Tesco’s draw back from carbon footprinting on January 28th, clearly illustrates the thinking that is along these lines:

The supermarket giant has also told of its frustration that other leading retailers failed to follow its lead, which meant the label was unable to gain sufficient critical mass.

2. Mainstream Retailers Don’t Care About the Origin of Their Products

When your interest in sustainability is based on a superficial marketing concern, clarifying the true nature of your products is too complicated to realize.

Tesco told The Grocer it had decided to wind down the project after finding research for each product involved “a minimum of several months’ work”.

Global distribution lines are extremely complex, yes. But instead of taking this state of affairs as an excuse to not effect carbon footprinting, like Tesco did, the situation should be taken as an occasion to reduce complexity and to support local supply chains. Tesco and its rivals could use their power to put pressure on their suppliers in order to make them calculate the carbon footprints themselves, at least within a scope of cradle to gate. Increasing transparency would, at the same time, not only generate trust and environmental benefits, it would also save money! Not happening here.

3. Plastic Packaging, Car Friendly Structure, Long Transport Distances – They’re Stuck in the Oil Era

Looking at the structure of supermarket chains the size of Tesco’s, it is not hard to deduce the paradigm behind them. Financial profit is the goal, and cheap fossil energy is the fundamental ingredient. Huge parking lots encourage customers to use energy-intensive individual transport, packaging materials are plastic and are used in abundance, all products are available all year and they have long transport chains.

This is the logic of the oil era. Why should a company that benefits from this logic make real changes, even if it has announced that it will be carbon neutral by 2020? No, I guess they will continue to burn oil. Following this logic, buying tree planting certificates somewhere in the world is probably the most “cost-effective” way to achieve carbon neutrality. A cosmetic carbon neutrality, to be clear about this.

4. Alternatives

Well, if the large players won’t practice sustainability, who will? In decreasing order, I conclude by naming some alternatives for getting food.

  • Grow your own
    It is increasingly convenient to do so, even in an urban environment. Try googling for community gardening in your area, and be sure to check out the amazing window farming project.
  • Go to a local organic farmers market
  • Go to a local conventional farmers market
  • Compare the prices in the local organic food store
  • Look into an organic supermarket
  • Check product’s for carbon footprint labeling, and ask the staff if you don’t find it
  • Keep asking the staff for organic products and for carbon footprint labels in your conventional supermarket

The brave might also even consider dumpster diving. Find a comprehensive manual here.

Article image by Moritz Bühner for knowtheflow.


About Moritz Bühner :

Job: Freelance blogger, attitude: green, reason: by conviction. Bachelor in Environmental and Bioresource Management at the University of Applied Life Sciences Vienna. Born in Hamburg, Germany, lived in Quebec (CAN), Vienna (AUT) and Pamplona (ESP). Why he blogs? "The possibility of going into detail with every link, satisfying the desire to learn. The direct feedback. The free global distribution. I just love the medium!"

Tags:

carbon footprint

corporate culture

eco label

environmental product declaration

oligolopoly

product carbon footprint

retailer

supermarket chain

Tesco



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Similar posts

20-20-20 Objectives

2012

3 scopes

3D printing

academia

ACHEMA

acidification

agriculture

air quality

aluminum

Ankara

antarctic ozone hole

apocalypse

assessment

atmospheric carbon measurement

B2B

Bachelor program

background database

BASF

battery change station

best practice

bio capacity

bio-economy

biocapacity

biodiversity

biological gas treatment

biomass

blogs

BMBF

books

Brazil

BREEAM

building sector

building standards

business opportunity

carbon

carbon accouting

carbon assessment

carbon emissions

carbon footprint

carbon footprinting

carbon free city

carbon intensity

carbon leakage

carbon management

carbon neutral

carbon neutrality

carbon reduction

carbon relocation

carbon tax

carbon-neutral travel

cargo shipping

carton

central america

central asia

certification

CFC

change

chemical industry

China

circular economy

circular flow economy

city

climate change

climate control

climate impact

climate neutral

climate protection

club of rome

co2-equivalent

cogeneration

collaborative consumption

combined reporting

commercial sector

commons

comparative life cycle assessment

Competence Center

composite indicator

compost

composting

consistency

construction

construction industry

consumption

container ship

copenhagen

corporate carbon footprint

corporate culture

corporate material flow modeling

Corporate Social Responsibility

cost accounting

cost-effective measures

Country Attractiveness

cradle to cradle

creative destruction

Creative Sustainability

Critique of the Green Economy

cross-collaboration

CSR

CSR report

customer-driven sustainability

cycling

dairy

Dashboard of Sustainability

database

Davos

de-growth economy

decarbonization

dematerialization

denmark

design

developing countries

developing world

development cooperation

distributed manufacturing

divestment

domestic fuel consumption

domestic sector

double decoupling

e!Sankey

e-car

e-mobility

e-sankey

earth overshoot day

Earth Sciences

Earth summit

eCarUs

eco city

eco design

eco label

ecodesign

ecoinvent

ecologic footprint

ecological footprint

ecological resilience

ecological tax reform

economic indicators

ecosystem disturbance

ecovillage

education

efficiency

efficiency factory

efficiency investment

efficiency measures

efficient construction

Effizienzfabrik

EHS

eLCAr

electric car

emerging economies

emission gap

emission relocation

emissions

EMS

energiewende

energy

energy contracting

energy efficiency

Energy Efficiency Directive

energy efficiency in production

energy efficient production

Energy Intensity by Sector

energy management

energy performance

energy reduction

energy sources

energy transition

engineering excellence

Enhipro

enms

environment

Environment Ministry

environmental accounting

environmental awareness

environmental capital

Environmental Contracting

environmental control

environmental cost accounting

Environmental Engineering

Environmental Goods and Services Sector

Environmental Governance

environmental impact

environmental labeling

environmental management

environmental management system

environmental performance

environmental performance indicator

environmental policy

environmental product declaration

environmental product declarations

environmental profit and loss statement

environmental regulation

environmental standard

Environmental Sustainability Index

environmental technology verification

Environmentally Harmful Subsidy

Environmentally Weighed Material Consumption

EPD

EU

Europe

European Comission

european commission

European Green Cars Initiative

European Sustainable Development Strategy

eutrophication

EVALEAU

events

external effects

fashion

FIFA

fish

fishery

food footprint

food industry

food production

food sector

footprinting

forest ecosystems

forestry

fouling

FPC

free trade

freighter travel

full cost accounting

gate-to-gate

gate-to-gate approach

geopolymer cement

Germany

Ghana

GHG emissions

GHG mitigation

GHG reduction

GHG reduction goals

glass

Global Compact

global justice

global warming

governance

green building

green buildings

green business

green business models

green Christmas

green construction

green consumers

green economy

green growth

green investment

green jobs

green living

green new deal

green paradox

green production

greenhouse gas emissions

greenhouse gas inventory

greenhouse gas protocol

greenhouse gas reduction

greenhouse gases

greenwash

GRI

handprinting

Happy Life Years

harmonization

HDPE

Herman Daly

HFC

holistic approach

holistic sustainability

human development index

HVAC

IEA

IFEU

ifu hamburg

ILCD Handbook

impact assessment

impact category

incentive

Incentive-based pay

incineration

India

industrial ecology

industrial location choice

industrial production

industrial sector

information design

innovation

input output

input-output databases

input-output economics

InReff

insulation

Integrated Reporting

integrative approach

intellectual property

internalization of externalities

international standards

interplant collaboration

IPCC

ISO

ISO 14000

ISO 14001

ISO 14015

ISO 14025

ISO 14031

ISO 14040

ISO 14046

ISO 14051

ISO 14064

ISO 14067

ISO 50001

Jevon’s Paradox.

knowledge economy

Kuznets curve

Kyoto protocol

LCA

LCA recommendations

LCA software

LCM Berlin

lean manufacturing

LEED

life cycle

life cycle analysis

life cycle assessment

life cycle engineering

life cycle inventory

life cycle management

life cycle thinking

life style

lifecycle

limits to growth

LinkedIn

living planet report

Long-Term Pay

low carbon economy

low-carbon transport

low-energy house

management models

manufacturing industry

masdar city

master program

material consumption

material efficiency

material flow

material flow accounting

Material Flow Accounts

material flow analysis

material flow balance

material flow cost accounting

material flow cost analysis

Material Flow Management

material flow modeling

material flowcosts

material flows

material footprint

meat

mechanical-biological treatment

media

metal industry

methodology

Mexico

MFA

MFCA

milk

modeling

Montreal Protocol

municipal solid waste

nature conservation

Nepal

NIMBY

nitrate pollution

nuclear phase out

nutrients balance

nutrients cycle

OECD

OECD Environment Policy Committee

oligolopoly

Online Resource Efficiency Platform OREP

operational efficiency

organic agriculture

outsourcing

ozone layer recovery

packaging

PAS

passive house

patents

PET

philippines

phosphorus

photovoltaics

pilot program

pinch analysis

plastic industry

policy

policy instruments

politics

pollution haven hypothesis

post growth economy

post oil age

PR

process engineering

process heat

process improvement

process modeling

Process Optimization

process system engineering

product carbon footprint

product environmental footprint

product stewardship

production

production circle

production planning

production system

Production-based CO2 Productivity

productivity

PUMA

PVC

qatar

quality

quality journalism

quantified self

Rapid prototyping

rebound effect

recycling

refuse-derived fuel plant

remuneration

remuneration of environmental performance

renewable energy

renewable energy in manufacturing

renewable heat

renewable hydrogen

renewable methane

renewable process heat

renewable raw material

Renewable Resources

renewable thermal energy

resilience

resource conflicts

resource efficiency

Resource Efficiency Framework

resource flows

resource politics

resource productivity

resources

retailer

reuse

RFID

Rio+20 summit

rising material demand

risk management

Rolf Dobelli

sankey diagram

saving potentials

savings

scope 3

seafood

season's greetings

seattle

shopping rage

smart grid

smart meter

SMB

social cost accounting

social media

social metabolism

Social-Ecological Resilience

software

solar energy

solar heat

solar thermal energy

South Africa

South America

South Korea

soy milk

stakeholder management

standards

statistics

steady state economy

steel

stranded assets

strong sustainability

studies

sufficiency

supermarket chain

sustainability

sustainability control

sustainability indicators

sustainability innovation

sustainability management

sustainability performance

sustainability projects

sustainability reporting

Sustainability Science

sustainability strategy

sustainability triangle

sustainable agriculture

sustainable architecture

sustainable business

sustainable construction

sustainable development

sustainable housing

sustainable lifestyle

Sustainable Living

Sustainable Process Index

Sustainable Resource Management

sustainable transport

sydney

system analysis

tajikistan

Tesco

textile industry

textile refinement

Tobias Viere

total material consumption

trade

transparency

transport

transport emissions

transport sector

trends

triple bottom line principles

Turkey

Umberto

umberto for carbon footprint

umberto user workshop

Umweltbundesamt

university

upcycling

urban carbon emissions

VDMA

vernon curve

vertical cooperation

Vertragsnaturschutz

virtual water

waste air treatment

waste cycle

waste disposal

waste hierarchy

waste management

waste prevention

wastewater

wastewater treatment

water abstraction rate

Water Consumption by Sector

water extraction

water filter

water footprint

Water Management

water stress

web 2.0

Wellbeing Index

wind gas

wind power

wine

with both eyes open

working conditions

world cup

world statistics day

world vegan day

YET

zero carbon

zero carbon city

zero emission mobility

zero growth

zero growth economy