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Supermarkets should be accountable for products, not just their buildings

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A supermarket should take accountability for the products that go through it, not just its buildings.

Which environmental impacts, for instance, should a retailer be accountable for and report on?

The environmental impact of a supermarket extends well beyond the doors of its stores to include the impacts of all the products it sells. These occur before and after the products enter and leave the stores in their production, their use and their disposal. Yet conventional corporate reporting would largely ignore anything that happens outside of the store, apart from a few cherry-picked case studies.

By taking accountability for the impacts of products across their lifecycle, retailers can gain a much better idea of their overall impact on society and of the type of products they might want to sell. Arguably, it was this kind of approach that led the do-it-yourself retailer B&Q to stop selling patio heaters. A traditional CR approach would not have registered the significant environmental impacts of patio heaters in their use phase. Ikea is now assessing its products based on a sustainability product scorecard to assess the lifecycle impacts of its products, including waste, energy and water from their use in customers’ homes.

A traditional corporate report might pick out one or two products as case studies and look at their impacts, but what about the rest? If a company produces EPDs based on lifecycle assessment for all its products, this can reveal its overall impact much better than any CR report.

An EPD takes into account the ingredients of a product, the methods of its production, and the full environmental impact of each stage of its lifecycle.

If we apply the supermarket approach to other sectors, we can see a different level of debate about who should be accountable for what. What about a private equity firm owning various companies? Rather than ticking some boxes and sending back a meaningless Stanford Research Institute-type questionnaire, private equity firms could report the overall impact of each of their companies based on the products these companies sell or make. This would be possible if those companies all produced EPDs for their products. The same thinking would apply to project finance.

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1 comment

  1. June 27, 2013
    Hugo Skoppek said...

    I could not agree more. However, their argument is frequently that they offer what the consumer wants. Or that the consumer is not willing to pay more (even though they fail to communicate the benefits of the product they sell). Supermarkets could impact sustainability even without EPD’s if they applied common sense and took responsibility beyond that of their shareholders.

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