Supermarket chains in the UK are exploiting every conceivable opportunity to outsmart their competition. Hyper-inflating green credentials to win customers’ favor is part of the game. That’s why it’s easy to be skeptical about the efforts by Tesco superstores. Arriving at a typical Tesco shop, customers are greeted by overly jovial texts on billboards. The phrase “Helping You Spend Less” complements equally vague messages about the environment. But the shop’s management is working to clean up their act, embarking on a crusade to offer customers products that actually lower their carbon footprint. Tesco is even beginning to think about the “greenness” of the very shelves on which these products are placed.
Earlier this month the “greenest ever” Tesco outlet was opened in Manchester. The new store is, in fact, a progressive example of sustainability in many aspects of superstore retailing.
With dimensions totalling 52,000 sq ft, the store has a carbon footprint less than 70% of similarly sized superstores, Tesco’s management claims. Fuel costs are down by 48%. The store’s lighting system makes use of natural daylight. When daylight increases, the lights in the store dim automatically.
Similar savings are made in the refrigerator/freezer department. The cooling system cleverly channels its carbon dioxide emissions to other machines requiring cool air. The shop’s architecture is designed in such a way that waste of heat is prevented as much as possible. And the on-site air conditioners are making use of natural wind catchers placed in funnels on the roof which make maximum use of natural ventilation.
The Manchester Tesco store also makes use of more environmentally friendly cardboard paper for its signage and the plastics used in its fixtures is also made of recycled materials. Tesco’s management designed the cardboard and fixtures using an internally developed environmental design tool to minimize environmental impact. The design tool was invented by the store’s environmental design team and PE International, an environmental consultancy. Essentially, the tool is software that churns out assessment reports of different materials and products.
“We have done extensive work to think about the impact of our buildings but didn’t want to stop at the door”, said Tesco’s environmental design manager Richard Denton when the tool was officially launched recently. “This new piece of software allows us to think about every item we put inside our stores, from signage and shelving to service desks and trolleys,” he was quoted as saying in Retail Week.
Visible effects of this design tool are the signs in the shop, all of which are made from honeycomb cardboard paper. The carbon footprint of this signage is 80% less than the signage in other Tesco shops. The honeycomb cardboard is just as strong as alternatives and can be recycled along with a store’s waste. The plastic that’s present in the store’s fixtures and checkout areas is made from fully recyclable materials. It’s still plastic, but the material has a much lower carbon and water content than ordinary plastics.
This is Tesco’s first main green outlet and the shop is functioning as a blueprint for other stores throughout Britain. Michael Kissman, Tesco’s corporate affairs manager, said that there’s potential to cut millions of pounds in running costs. Examples are the cardboard signs in the shops. Tesco’s management announced recently that it is planning to add or replace almost 6,000 signs with honeycomb cardboard signs. This will save the store more than 300 tonnes of carbon and 8,500 tonnes of embodied water. The shop’s management has allowed open access of its software to its suppy chain. That means that suppliers can use it free of charge to reduce the carbon footprint of all Tesco’s equipment.
Tesco’s green credentials are complemented by a social caring program. In this particular superstore that translates into a recruitment campaign providing jobs for the local community. Of the 230 staff hired to run the store, more than half are people who have been unemployed for six months or more.