Colruyt Group’s approach to climate change
- Why is climate change so important?
- What are we currently doing?
- Our future plans
Climate change and why it’s so important
Greenhouse gases such as CO₂, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour occur naturally in the atmosphere. They absorb part of the sun's heat. Without these greenhouse gases it would be much colder on earth than it is now. This natural greenhouse effect has been accelerated by all kinds of human activities since the industrial revolution. Burning fossil fuels and deforestation has resulted in a 40 % increase of CO₂ in the atmosphere compared to a few centuries ago. All these extra greenhouse gases are the direct cause of climate change. To put a stop to this and to improve air quality, our global CO₂ emissions must be reduced.
What are we currently doing?
As a retailer, we have an impact on climate change - something we are fully aware of. As a result, we have been working on reducing our impact for a number of decades. Not by offsetting our CO₂ emissions by purchasing certificates, but by actually avoiding and reducing emissions.
We monitor our emissions in line with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the most widely used protocol to calculate greenhouse gas emissions around the world. These figures are reported transparently in our annual report, on two levels. Firstly, we report our direct CO₂ emissions caused by our own building, transport and production-related activities (scope 1); and secondly, we report our indirect CO₂ emissions when we use purchased green electricity (scope 2).
We have scrutinised all our activities and identified four areas which have the highest CO₂ emissions and impact on climate change. These are the areas where we work hardest to make improvements. These areas are refrigeration, heating, energy and mobility. As a result of the many projects in these four areas, our direct emissions of greenhouse gases have been falling in absolute terms since 2016.
Refreshing refrigeration techniques
As a retailer, we have many stores that intensively use refrigeration installations for their fresh produce departments and butcher counters. Traditional refrigeration installations usually contain synthetic coolants (such as R507 or Freon) that contribute to global warming. European directives prohibit the use of these types of refrigeration installations from 2020 onwards. That is why we are switching completely to natural coolants, such as propane and CO₂. These emit about 90 % less greenhouse gases over their lifetime than conventional synthetic coolants. Moreover, the new refrigeration installations contain up to 30 times less coolant and have fewer leaks.
Unlike many other retailers, we do not use separate refrigerated lorries to transport fresh and frozen products to our stores. We transport them in refrigerated containers, which can be loaded onto normal delivery lorries. Therefore, our lorries are always at about 95 % capacity when delivering to our stores, avoiding the need for unnecessary trips. In early 2016, we developed a liquid ice container (LIC) for transporting fresh produce. Liquid ice is produced by mixing water and ethanol and stirring continuously during the freezing process. This liquid ice is pumped into the walls of specially developed refrigerated containers in our distribution centre. Et voilà! The containers are ready to be filled and transported to our stores. We currently deliver all our fresh produce to our stores using 6,600 LICs. We developed an alternative with water and salt for frozen products. 2,000 of these are in circulation today. The ice in our LICs is frozen and used again repeatedly. Not a drop goes to waste.
Refrigeration has an impact on climate change, but then so does heating. Traditionally, fossil fuels are used for heating, which release a lot of CO₂. Colruyt Group supports fossil fuel-free stores, i.e. without oil or natural gas heating. We only use residual heat and green electricity to heat these stores. This results in a 99 % reduction in CO₂ emissions compared to a store that uses a conventional boiler. This is achieved in several steps.
Renovating towards low-energy stores
In 2017, all our older stores started undergoing energy-saving renovations. This means that we insulate all the older shops that we own, make them more airtight and revise the technology where necessary.
In order to make something cold, you literally need to extract the heat from it. This is what happens, for example, in refrigeration installations for fresh produce. We don't just let that precious heat go to waste. We use this 'residual heat' to provide heating for the store. Heat recovery systems are installed in new Colruyt Lowest Prices, OKay and Bio-Planet stores and those stores undergoing renovations. Our refrigeration installations with natural coolants are ideally suited for heat recovery. This completes the circle.
The butcher counters in the Colruyt Lowest Prices and Bio-Planet stores also require plenty of hot tap water. For those departments, we use a heat pump. This extracts heat from the environment and releases it back into the water. The heat pump does this using 100 % green electricity. The system is much more energy efficient than an electric boiler and has virtually zero CO₂ emissions compared to natural gas or fuel oil.
These heat pumps can also be a suitable heat source for our non-food stores and other buildings where heat cannot be recovered from refrigeration installations. They can also be used for the larger stores where the residual heat from refrigeration is not enough to heat the entire store. We have already installed a heat pump at our head office in Halle. We are looking at ways to roll this out to other buildings and we continue to look for alternatives to fossil fuels.
A smart energy network
We are all aware by now that avoiding fossil fuels is crucial in the fight against climate change. Our efforts with regard to energy are twofold: reducing energy consumption and - where we do use energy - using more green energy.
More green energy
Green energy is an important means of reducing our CO₂ emissions. Colruyt Group is a pioneer in green energy production in Belgium. In recent decades we have invested millions of euros in the production of solar and wind energy on land with 14 own wind turbines and 79 solar installations. Through our share in Parkwind, we also invested in the production of wind energy at sea. At the end of 2019, we joined all our wind energy efforts in Virya Energy, so that we can continue to expand production capacity together with other partners. Result: with our investments in renewable energy, we cover 100 % of our energy consumption!
Mobility and transport
We have nearly 30,000 employees, 4 million customers and countless numbers of products in our logistics chain. Their movements have an enormous impact on climate change. This calls for a smart mobility policy.
Product impact on climate change
The products on our shelves also have an indirect impact on climate change. We have less control over this and it is more difficult for us to report on it. Nevertheless, we work with our suppliers to reduce the impact that the products in our range have on climate change. We look at the entire life cycle of a product: from raw materials to production, packaging, transport, use, waste processing, recycling, etc. The factors with the biggest impact are dealt with first. Here are some examples:
- We made various changes to our Boni Selection-nappies in terms of composition, production, transport and waste processing. This resulted in a 5 % CO₂ reduction.
- With our Fine Food Meat production department, our focus is increasingly on making the meat chain more sustainable; together with our plant-based meat substitutes, our efforts will have a lesser impact on climate change than traditional meat preparations.
- But if food ends up being thrown away, all of our effort and reduced CO₂ emissions go to waste. That’s why we have started many initiatives to combat food waste. By using an automated supply system, we manage to sell 97.38 % of our fresh and frozen food. We find a useful destination for the 2.62 % of food that we do not sell.
What other plans do we have in store for the future?
It is not our ambition to become climate neutral. Why not? Because strictly speaking, 'climate neutral' does not exist. It means that your activities and processes do not contribute to climate change. In other words, no greenhouse gases such as CO₂ are produced. This is unrealistic. As a company, you can only achieve climate neutrality by compensating your emissions with purchased certificates. You ensure that - in exchange for your CO₂ emissions - less CO₂ is emitted somewhere else or CO₂ is removed from the atmosphere. That’s not our approach. We want to take action ourselves and focus on innovative projects to effectively reduce our emissions. Step by step.
It is our ambition to reduce our direct CO₂ emissions by 20 % by the end of 2020 compared to 2008, in relation to our turnover for our activities in Belgium, Luxembourg and France. On 31 March 2020, we were already at 18.6 %. We are on track to meet our target by the end of this year. That is why we have already set a new target: a 40 % reduction in direct CO₂ emissions by 2030 compared to 2008, once again as a percentage of our turnover.
How will we reduce our direct CO₂ emissions even further?
Every year, we give an average of 20 existing stores a sustainable makeover to a low-energy store. This equals an investment of EUR 35 million for 234 renovations by 2029. We also consistently replace all the lighting with LED lights every time we renovate a building, including the car parks. New stores and buildings will of course be fitted with LED lighting as standard.
European directives stipulate that from 2030 onwards, synthetic coolants can no longer be added if a conventional refrigeration system has a leak. By then we want to have switched to refrigeration installations that use natural coolants in all Colruyt Lowest Prices, OKay and Bio-Planet stores. As a result, we will emit 11 % less CO₂ in Belgium, compared to our total CO₂ emissions in 2015.
Through Virya Energy, we continue to build our renewable energy production capacity every year. Numerous new onshore wind turbines are planned for the coming years in Flanders and Wallonia. At sea we are also aiming for expansion: the German wind farm Arcadis Ost 1 in the Baltic Sea will be operational in the first quarter of 2023. The research phase for the first wind farm in Irish waters – Oriel – is in full swing.
An eco-score for all products
Today, there are various methods for mapping the impact of a product or organisation on climate change. The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is the European standard for carrying out Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) of products. Organisations can make use of the Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF). All of this can become quite complex. That is why we are working on an eco-score, similar to the Nutri-Score. This eco-score would allow customers to easily compare the ecological impact of similar products and make informed decisions while shopping.
Stefan Goethaert, managing director of Colruyt Group Fine Food and responsible for product sustainability, explains: “We are very busy trying out all kinds of things and developing new tools. However, an eco-score is much more complex than the Nutri-Score, which is based on the product itself. To measure the impact on climate change, you have to map the entire life cycle of the product and that is a difficult task."