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Do Retailers Keep their Environmental Promises?

In 2009 the European Retail Forum was launched by the European Commission, together with representatives of EuroCommerce and the European Retail Round Table (ERRT). Its aim is to generate a better understanding of the practical measures needed to promote sustainable consumption. The European Retail Forum is open to all retailers who join the Retailers' Environmental Action Programme (REAP). The sector represents approximately 11 percent of the EU's GDP and opens the door to millions of European consumers. In doing so, it has the potential to contribute tremendously to sustainable development.

To understand the progress of retailers on sustainability, the European Commission has now reviewed the first series of commitments set voluntarily by the companies. The report, "Services on Monitoring Retailers' REAP commitments", lists environmental achievements in three categories: What we sell, How we sell and Communication. It shows best-practice and progress towards a better transparency. Nevertheless, comparability suffers from the use of different, individual indicators and baselines, and harmonisation of these measures would be helpful in the future.

The report finds that retailers are generally delivering on their undertakings, but communication with consumers could be improved.

Apart from the visions to increase energy efficiency and optimize logistics, the issues of reducing hazardous chemicals and reducing resource use play an important role for many companies. This is reflected in the visions to improve products' eco-design and increase sales of more sustainable products.

Ten of the twenty screened companies are listed on the stock exchange:

  • Asda Walmart (WMT)
  • Carrefour (CAR)
  • Colruyt (COLR)
  • Delhaize Group (DEG)
  • Inditex (ITX)
  • King Fisher (KGF)
  • Marks & Spencer (MA6)
  • Metro (MEO)
  • Royal Ahold (AHOB)
  • Tesco (TSCO)

The remaining ten companies are not publically listed:

  • Auchan
  • C&A
  • El Corte Inglés
  • FECD
  • IKEA
  • Kaufland
  • Leroy Merlin
  • Lidl
  • Mercadona
  • Mercator
Examples of achievements

Carrier bags: Optimisation through the use of recycled material or organic cotton bags, or reducing free disposable plastic bags

Carrefour: 59 percent reduction in disposable bags per square metre of sales area in 2009 compared to 2005.
El Corte Ingles: 7.6 percent reduction in plastic bags in 2009 compared to 2007.
Leroy Martin: 111,000 reusable bags and 6,500 biodegradable bags sold by LM Spain in 2009.
Lidl: Reduction of at least 8,000 tonnes CO² yearly through the use of shopping bags consisting of recycled material in 2008 and 2009.
Marks & Spencer: 83 percent reduction in plastic bag use (target was 33 percent by 2012)
C&A: 25 percent increase in use of plastic bags made from recycled material in 2009.

Other chemical-related achievements

Kaufland: 100 percent of Kaufland's own-branded household and sanitary papers used sustainable paper sources.
Lidl: 100 percent of Lidl's own-branded skin-tight textiles were sold under the "Oeko-Tex Standard 100" certification in 2009.
Marks&Spencer: Manufacture of polyester fleeces from recycled plastic, using the equivalent of 4 million two-litre bottles in 2006 and 2007, and 37 million in 2009.
Mercadona: 100 percent of concentrated conditioner sold under the "Charter for Sustainable Cleaning" certification.

Kingfisher´s target is to engage with suppliers over the use of chemicals of concern by 31 January 2011. Kingfisher's six European businesses have already developed vendor engagement programmes on chemicals - in line with the EU regulatory requirements. Kingfisher's other three businesses have developed chemical action plans.

European Commission Press Release
Services on Monitoring Retailers' REAP commitments report