By Marcus Leach

Have retailers lived up to the environmental ambitions they committed themselves to in 2008?

A new British Retail Consortium (BRC) report, which answers that question, demonstrates increasing recognition that reducing waste, energy and water usage makes good business sense. It delivers value for customers and shareholders as well as real environmental benefits.

This down to earth business approach has attracted praise and pragmatic support from leading environmental groups, marking a turning point in their relationship with retailers. Many of those groups say that retail is where the innovation is coming from. They are working to understand business realities and acknowledging the gains from replacing criticism with collaboration.

For example, contributing to the BRC report, the Carbon Trust said: "It's clear that the retail industry is taking climate change seriously." While Forum for the Future said: "This report is important as it signals a retail sector that is aware……that ‘business as usual' won't secure the future prosperity of UK retail."

The BRC-led project, A Better Retailing Climate was launched in 2008. It committed businesses representing the majority of the UK retail market to sector-wide environmental ambitions.

The new assessment, A Better Retailing Climate: Towards Sustainable Retail, is the BRC's third report on progress against the original commitments. It is being launched in the House of Commons today (Tuesday 31 January 2012).

The results it reveals include:
Waste: Exceeded target. Retailers committed to reduce waste sent to landfill to below 15 per cent by 2013. Signatories beat that target two years early, sending just 14 per cent of waste to landfill in 2011 (down from 45 per cent in 2005).

Transport: Exceeded target. Retailers committed to reduce delivery emissions by 15 per cent by 2013 (compared with 2005 levels). In fact they achieved a 23 per cent reduction by 2011.

Buildings: On target. Retailers committed to cut energy-related emissions from buildings by 25 per cent by 2013 (compared with 2005 levels and allowing for growth). By 2011, these emissions were down by 20 per cent.

Refrigeration: On target. Retailers committed to halve emissions from refrigeration by 2013 (relative to floor space to allow for business growth). By 2011, these had already been reduced by 37 per cent.

Customers and suppliers: Strong progress. Against a background of commodity price volatility and broader economic uncertainty, retailers are working successfully with both groups to build resilience while reducing environmental impact.

British Retail Consortium Head of Environment Bob Gordon said: "Despite current economic difficulties, retailers are continuing to work with their suppliers to meet tougher sustainability goals. This BRC assessment shows that the UK has the most progressive retail sector in the world and crucially that work with consumers and environmental groups is driving standards up. Some previous targets have been met ahead of schedule but investment continues, protecting consumers' wallets and the planet."

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