What’s at the heart of reducing Retailers’ carbon footprint?

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  • What’s at the heart of reducing Retailers’ carbon footprint?
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Julian King


Julian King


Future Thinking , Market Research
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At RLB UK, we believe that building for the future means just this – a moral obligation to have a positive impact on future communities and society as a whole. This is why while following our own path to continual improvement in sustainability, we are also supporting many of our customers in their own journey.

Putting sustainability at the heart of a business has become a strategic goal for many organisations. Cutting carbon emissions and decreasing environmental impact across property estates and operations is now seen as a responsible business practice. However, carbon reduction is only one step in the sustainability journey – we need to consider our impacts holistically from biodiversity to circular economy, air quality to providing social value to our local communities.

In terms of carbon, applying the energy hierarchy is the first step. Reducing energy consumption, using renewable energy, diversifying fleets to electric vehicles, ensuring construction and operations at their most efficient are the first considerations to address carbon emissions. After reducing consumption and using green power sources, where technology has yet to come up with a solution to remove emissions entirely then the last step is to consider carbon capture or carbon offsetting.

How to become a carbon-neutral company

Reducing property-based carbon requires a clear understanding of the entire property asset base, the existing supply chain and the methods of moving both staff and goods around. Identifying the current footprint, reducing it, and neutralising the impact of any remaining emissions are the three main steps to becoming a carbon-neutral company.

1. Measure

Identify your carbon footprint based on all aspects of your business, including your suppliers. Determine your annual CO2 emissions and where they occur so there is a full understanding of your footprint and where to focus first. Annual and project-based accounting can be a good starting point.

2. Reduce & Optimise

With a full understanding of your footprint, it is possible to see where reductions can be made. In-house impact may be easier to decrease through more efficient operations, technology and optimising processes.

Projects and supply chains may be more difficult to reduce and may require a total design overhaul including switching to greener suppliers of materials and energy. This can be addressed through integrating sustainability into procurement. Attention must be focused on making any asset replacement as efficient, fit for purpose and with a high degree of management of the overall lifecycle of the asset. Good decisions today can have a massive impact for future years.

3. Offsetting

The main focus should be on reducing emissions through minimising consumption, switching to greener procurement practices and implementing behavioural change. Having a strategy towards net zero provides a route to reducing emissions, but it may not be possible to hit net zero immediately. However, this should not be a reason for stopping. In such situations, businesses can still find other ways to negate CO2 through robust offsetting schemes or investing in sustainable projects. Options can be to support or build renewable energy generation, to plant or to protect forests or to invest in carbon capture projects. It may not bring the direct corporate footprint down completely, but it reduces emissions elsewhere and offsets the operational overage.

Five ways to reduce carbon footprint in a Retail Estate setting:

1. Ensure that sustainability is part of the conversation as early as possible

The Government’s Value Toolkit and the Construction Playbook both highlight the need to look more holistically at our builds, retrofits and fit outs – across our industry. Rather than working in silos to look at projects on a case-by-case basis, we need to think of the longer life of buildings and incorporate sustainable elements that bring longevity and look at cost in the larger framework of repetitive projects and programmes rather than just unit price. Looking wider than construction and including engagement and behavioral change can have huge benefits in reducing carbon.

2. Rationalise and baseline existing assets

It is vital that buildings operate as efficiently as possible, addressing under-utilisation through decreasing estate footprint and therefore energy consumption and carbon. Understanding the baseline enables a roadmap towards net zero carbon to be developed.

3. Utilise whole life value approaches

Applying an integrated whole life value approach allows for informed decisions in relation to estate assets over the long term and delivers real savings. Simply put, whole life value means considering capital costs, energy, carbon and operation/life cycle replacement costs from the outset.

4. Hit the hotspots on embodied carbon

At RLB, we utilise our in-house tool to determine the embodied carbon of each construction material. Focusing on the proportionally most significant areas drives decision making; consider structural (e.g. recycled steel, timber frames), concrete and aggregates (e.g. recycled content and low carbon alternatives).

5. Innovate and future proof

Adopting best practice from other sectors, preparing for rapidly changing technology and installing adaptable infrastructure to move towards electrification of the estate allows for a future proofing approach.

Also thinking carefully about fit outs and refurbishment work, possibly working collaboratively with local suppliers to bring carbon costs of transportation down and looking to reuse and recycle wherever possible.

Customer preferences are changing

With major retailers all competing to raise a flag for their own carbon credentials and customer behaviour trends are swinging rapidly as millennials become a major force in the economy, sustainability cannot be ignored. 

Most recently we have seen John Lewis, Tesco and Sainsbury’s accelerate their carbon neutral ambitions asserting an ambition to reach net zero from direct emissions by 2035 and more broadly, dozens of major players in the UK’s retail sector, under the British Retail Consortium’s roadmap, are plotting a course to net-zero by 2040.

Our team work to develop, progress and implement holistic sustainability for our clients, ensuring that carbon reduction is part of an overall sustainability agenda. RLB has an impressive track record of innovative and cost effective methods of deploying energy, sustainability and productivity projects to retail estates.

The RLB team is currently delivering projects assisting our customers in the following areas of their businesses:

  • Technology & frictionless trade initiatives
  • Refrigeration
  • LED Lighting Programmes
  • Water saving and harvesting initiatives
  • Reduction of plastic waste
  • Customer recycling initiatives
  • Vehicle Electrification
  • Micro Power Generation
  • Green Roofs
  • Solar PV
  • HVAC Upgrades
  • R22 Replacement Programmes
  • Waste heat recovery
  • Wind Power
  • Power Optimisation
  • Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) & Modular
  • Programme Optimisation