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Sainsbury’s has vowed to invest £1 billion in a sustainable new goal: transforming its business to become carbon neutral by 2040.

It’s a leap forward for major supermarkets — and includes action on food waste, plastic packaging, recycling, and sustainable eating, according to the Guardian.

However, environmental campaigners have noticed a potential loophole in its plans.

Britain’s second largest supermarket chain had already announced in September 2019 that it would cut all its plastic packaging in half by 2025 — and has begun trialling a bottle deposit return scheme across five outlets, where customers get 5p to spend instore for every bottle they exchange.

The BBC reports that in order to reach “net zero” — meaning contributing nothing to global warming by emitting less carbon into the atmosphere than it removes — Sainsbury’s will work towards reducing emissions in its transport network by converting its vehicles to use alternative fuel sources, and redesigning its stores to ensure its refrigeration systems are more efficient.

It will reportedly spend £50 million a year over the next two decades to reduce the one million tonnes of carbon it currently emits annually.

Although Sainsbury’s net zero target is leading the industry — it’s been set 10 years earlier than Tesco’s — there has been criticism from climate activists that the store’s plans can only do so much good when they don’t address critical issues in its supply chain.

The current plans only examine Sainsbury’s own emissions. While it has said it will be talking to its suppliers, it hasn’t gone as far Tesco — which is demanding suppliers reduce emissions by 7% this year alone.

“Sainsbury’s thinking about its role in the climate emergency we face is a good first step, but any plan that doesn’t cover their supply chain is nowhere near ambitious enough, and amounts to offshoring their carbon emissions,” Areeba Hamid, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told Global Citizen.

“Our climate emergency isn’t limited to this country, so the Sainsbury’s net zero plan must go beyond its UK business,” she added.

Sainsbury’s 2040 target is 10 years earlier than the legal timeline for net zero set by the UK government last year — but there’s an intriguing similarity between the two objectives.

Britain became the first country in the world to legislate a timeline to become net zero just as Theresa May was approaching the end of her time as prime minister. She had already resigned from her post, and some saw the move as an attempt to preserve some legacy on the defining issue of our time.

Likewise, Sainsbury’s has moved the dial forwards for supermarkets on achieving net zero just as its CEO Mike Coupe — who earned internet infamy in 2018 when he was filmed humming We’re In the Moneyunder his breath prior to an ITV interview on a multi-billion pound merger with Asda that later failed — announced he will step down from his post in May 2020. 

The shift in climate policy may be one of his last moves in the role before he leaves the company.

"We are committing to reduce our own carbon emissions and become net zero by 2040, 10 years ahead of the government's own targets, because 2050 isn't soon enough," Coupe said in a statement.


Defend the Planet

This UK Supermarket Will Spend £1 Billion to Be Carbon Neutral By 2040

By James Hitchings-Hales