Azara Blog: Supermarkets allegedly produce more CO2 than greengrocers

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Date published: 2006/04/28

The BBC says:

Campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) is urging people to buy food from local shops to cut greenhouse gases.

FoE says government research shows the average supermarket produces as much carbon dioxide as 60 greengrocers.

It says supermarkets are less efficient and encourage people to produce more emissions by travelling further to shop - an average of 890 miles a year.

The British Retail Association disputes FoE's claims, saying supermarkets produce less CO2 than small food shops.

FoE supermarkets campaigner Sandra Bell said supermarkets produced three times as much carbon dioxide per square metre of floor space as greengrocers and twice as much as the average independent butcher or corner shop.

But British Retail Association director general Kevin Hawkins said the research, carried out for the government by Sheffield Hallam University, did not back FoE's claims.

He said: "For example, the average supermarket produces three times the carbon dioxide that a greengrocer does but in terms of floor space, the average supermarket in Hallam's research is 20 times bigger than the average greengrocer - 1,500 square meters against 76 square meters.

"So the efficiency with which the average supermarket uses energy is much better than the performance of the average greengrocer."
Ms Bell said the amount of CO2 produced by shoppers travelling to out of town supermarkets and by supermarkets transporting food around had to be taken into account.

She said: "They're encouraging people to travel further to out of town stores to do their shopping, they're flying in produce from all over the world, they're transporting it up and down the country through their central distribution systems....

"If you take all that into account then it's clear that local shops are going to be more efficient than big supermarkets."

But Mr Hawkins said central distribution systems had superseded a system under which each individual supplier transported its goods direct to each retailer, which he said was "certainly not environmentally friendly".

He added that research by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs showed that "food miles", including long haul air travel, accounted for less than 2% of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions.
An FoE spokeswoman said independent shops were being driven out of business as more people turned to large supermarket chains.

Dear, oh dear, if this is the best the FoE can do they should pack up and go home. They unfortunately let their hatred of supermarkets get in the way of a sane analysis. The ratio of CO2 produced by an average supermarket to an average greengrocer is irrelevant, the former is much bigger so of course it is going to produce more. Even the alleged ratio of 3 per square meter is irrelevant, since the supermarkets could easily be selling that ratio and more of goods per square meter, compared with greengrocers, and it is the bang per buck which matters.

Faced with that blatant stupidity, the FoE spokeswoman then diverted onto transport. Now the produce that is flown in "from all over the world" has not accounted for the CO2 consumed, since air fuel is not taxed. But all road transport in the UK more than pays its fair share of carbon tax (via fuel duty), so that cannot count negatively against supermarkets. And one would have to guess that for supermarkets, the CO2 produced by road transport far outweighs that produced by air transport.

The FoE spokeswoman then, in desperation, turned towards social reasons for using local shops. The website article does not mention it, but in the actual interview on Radio 4 she made the obvious point that people without cars have less access to supermarkets. But as she admitted herself, more and more people shop in supermarkets, and that is because they prefer them to greengrocers. For one thing, they are far more convenient, in particular, unlike most shops in towns, they have reasonable parking. This makes them much more family friendly. But of course FoE, along with many other of the chattering classes, believes that the interests of the majority of Britain should be subsumed by the interests of the minority.

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