GUEST COMMENT Retail road to net zero: don’t get left in the slow lane

Image: AdobeStock

Image: AdobeStock

In recent years we have seen a huge shift in what consumers expect from retail brands. High on the list is a brand’s core values, particularly when it comes to its sustainability credentials, as people are more likely to align themselves with brands that demonstrate meaningful environmental actions.

Whilst this poses a challenge for retailers in a phase of spiralling costs, it’s also a valuable opportunity to expand their customer base and improve their bottom line. By giving due focus to their environmental commitments and targets, they can have a significant impact on the UK’s drive towards net zero by 2050, whilst also improving brand value.

There is a wealth of information available to retailers in this space, which can seem overwhelming and whilst environmental sustainability is an urgent requirement, it simply can’t be achieved overnight. Retailers should therefore consider a phased approach, to prevent major upheaval whilst developing meaningful sustainability actions and building investor confidence.

At EDF we have worked with some of the biggest retailers in the UK, including Tesco, so are well versed in helping the retail sector to review its energy usage and make necessary improvements on the path to net zero. Our experience has helped us to identify three key priorities for the industry: energy usage, transport and the wider supply chain.

Onsite energy use

The first thing to look at is energy usage across your estate – how much, when and what you use. An initial option to kickstart the journey to net zero is to explore zero carbon energy sources, whether from renewable or nuclear.

But it’s not just about using zero carbon energy; there is also significant potential for onsite generation. One way of doing this is by installing solar photovoltaic (solar PV) panels on roof or land space to generate energy from sunlight. This offers a direct ‘off-grid’ source of renewable energy for the business, offering protection against market volatility, whilst also being cost effective. Options are available from purchasing the installation outright, through to financing via a power purchase agreement (PPA) without capital outlay.

In its net zero plan – which committed the business to a 60% carbon reduction from operations by 2025 compared to 2015 – Tesco outlined its aim for the majority of its power to come from a mix of onsite generation and Grid Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) that both increase the renewable proportion of the national grid. To support this, EDF Renewables worked with Tesco on a plan to generate solar power from the roofs of 14 of its stores, leading to the installation of ~5 megawatts of solar PV.

Transport

Another way to cut down on emissions is by reviewing transport methods.

There is more desire than ever before for consumers and businesses to switch to electric vehicles (EVs). In fact, sales of EVs rose once again in March, showing the continued demand and real need for businesses to consider how they can support this growth. Providing charging points is therefore vital for all retailers with customer or employee parking facilities.

However, this is not just a switch for end-consumers; retailers should look at their delivery fleets and consider electrifying them to reduce emissions. This is especially important for ecommerce retailers, for whom transport will likely be the biggest source of emissions due to the absence of bricks-and-mortar stores.

Supply chains

For larger retailers, the challenge is even greater if there is not just one site to consider. Some will have huge supply chains to take into account, parts of which they will have little to no control over.

This is where proactive engagement will come into play. It is important to speak to suppliers to understand how best to support each other in reducing emissions, whether that be individually or as a group. This will not only reduce ‘Scope 3’ emissions, but also influence suppliers to consider implementing their own independent sustainable actions.

No matter the size of business, these steps offer simple and cost-effective ways to get retailers started on the path to net zero. Whilst a comprehensive net zero strategy is always desirable, we feel they offer a solid starting point.

Author:

Raghav Singh, head of large business at EDF

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