Greenwash rife across UK supermarkets

26th Jul 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

No UK supermarket has adopted a target to reduce sales of industrial meat and dairy – the single biggest slice of supermarkets’ emissions.

Our new report has revealed that greenwashing – a form of advertising or marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organisation’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly is rife across the UK supermarket sector with ALL the major retailers found to be promoting minor green initiatives while avoiding taking significant action on the climate impact of the industrial meat and dairy they sell. Around a third of retailers’ emissions result from sales of industrial meat, dairy and other animal source foods.

Read the report.

Despite UK supermarkets being quick to adopt climate-friendly marketing with ‘green’ packaging, climate targets and advertising campaigns, not one single UK supermarket chain has yet adopted a target to reduce sales of industrial meat and dairy – the single biggest slice of supermarkets’ emissions.

The findings are based on Feedback’s latest Meat and Climate scorecard which assesses supermarkets’ climate claims and in-store practices using twelve indicators, in accordance with academic research into common greenwashing strategies. Tactics include ‘selective disclosure’ where companies disclose on some elements of their climate or environmental impact while avoiding talking about more harmful issues and or using distraction techniques – i.e. shining a spotlight on specific, often ultimately less effective, environmental initiatives.

Key findings reveal:

  • The UK’s biggest retailer, Tesco promotes its growing network of electric delivery vans, branded ‘Greener Greens’. Yet even when up to full capacity in 2030, electric vans will only represent an emission saving equivalent to 0.1% of Tesco’s yearly emissions. Meanwhile, Feedback has calculated that Tesco’s meat and dairy sales represent around a third of their emissions, or around 24.8 million tonnes CO2e a year.
  • Sainsbury’s, which boasts on its website ‘We’re helping our customers choose healthy and sustainable diets’ recently launched its new value range ‘Stamford Street Co’. The range contains over 35 products containing meat and/or dairy, and only 12 fruit or vegetable products. 
  •  Aldi’s website states that ‘Aldi UK and Ireland have been ‘carbon neutral’ since 2019’, without mentioning that this carbon neutral status only applies to the approximately 5% of its total emissions that occur in stores or head office – ignoring the 95% which are related to products and sales.

“It’s astonishing that greenwashing is rife across the industry with all the UK’s largest supermarkets employing ‘distraction’ type green initiatives, which make little impact on their overall footprint yet serve to deflect attention from the real issues. It’s clear from our findings that retailers are still focused on boosting meat sales despite setting net zero targets and pledging to help us eat healthier and more sustainably – and this must now change.” Jessica Sinclair Taylor, Head of Policy at Feedback

With a whopping 95% of retailers’ emissions coming from the products they sell and a third or more of these directly linked to some of their most polluting products, meat and dairy sales – we are calling for:

  • Complete transparency amongst retailers about how much of their climate footprint is linked to meat and dairy sales
  • A clear and realistic pathway to net zero emissions which includes targets to sell less of their highest-emitting products;
  • Action to drop promotions on meat and dairy products with immediate effect – in the same way some retailers have dropped promotions on products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).

Sign our petition to supermarkets now.

Following the Advertising Standards Authority’s new guidance for companies on greenwashing, which includes advice that environmental claims made without context on the company’s wider environmental impact could be classed as greenwash PLUS the Competition and Market’s Authority Green Claims Code which states that claims must not mislead consumers by giving them an inaccurate impression of how green or sustainable a business really is. Aldi’s ‘carbon neutral’ claim has been reported to the ASA and we are also pursuing a complaint regarding Tesco’s ‘Greener Greens’ electric delivery vans with Trading Standards.

In addition, Feedback has written to the Competition and Markets Authority with evidence of all the supermarkets’ failure to substantiate environmental claims with real plans to reduce emissions from their supply chain. 

Industrial meat and dairy production contribute to climate change through direct emissions from both animals and their waste and through the destruction of important ecosystems such as the Amazon Cerrado to raise cattle or grow soya for animal feed. The UK imports most of its soya from South America, at least 90% of which is fed to animals, particularly chicken and pork.

The Government’s Committee on Climate Change has said the UK need to cut meat and dairy consumption by 20% by 2030 to meet its climate commitments while the University of Oxford estimates consumption of meats such as beef should be cut by as much as 89% to meet the NHS Eatwell guidelines. We have recently won the right in the Court of Appeal to bring a legal challenge against the government’s current food strategy, on the grounds that it fails to act on the damaging environmental impact of excessive meat and dairy production and consumption.

Read the full report. You can view how we scored the supermarkets here.

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