2012 - An analysis of European
retailers revealed a wide range of initiatives being undertaken to
improve the environmental performance of product supply
However, it appears that very large grocery retailers are
less proactive than specialist and cooperative retailers, owing to
their complex supply chains and tendency to consider consumers
responsible for environmental improvements.
Retailers have significant potential to
influence suppliers and consumers in order to drive environmental
improvement across product life cycles.
Retailer initiatives to achieve this include green
procurement, choice editing (only selling environmentally-friendly
goods), product labelling, use of more environmentally-friendly
materials in their 'own brand' products, stipulating environmental
criteria for suppliers, and promoting eco-labelled
However, the number and complexity of retail supply
chains, and geographical distance between suppliers, makes
improving supply chain sustainability a logistical challenge for
retailers. Progress requires long-term commitment.
The researchers collated information from 25 major
European retailers on their initiatives to improve the
environmental performance of their supply chains. They focused on
larger retailers with private label product ranges and those
presumed to be front-runners in environmental
Data were collected between February 2010 and February
2011 from a range of sources, including sustainability reports,
retail and scientific experts, and direct communication with
The results suggest that retailers need to report the
environmental performance of their supply chains more clearly and
quantitatively. Quantitative data on the sales of
environmentally-improved products remain difficult to obtain and
some major retailers, such as two German supermarket chains
assessed, do not publish sustainability reports.
Third party standards, such as the Forest Stewardship
Council (FSC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards, are
increasingly used by retailers to demonstrate environmentally
improved performance by products and suppliers.
Front-runner retailers use these standards as a basis for
green procurement, rather than to inform consumer choice, and have
targets for 100% certification within priority product groups.
Organic certification is the most widespread environment-related
product standard, and underpins consumer labels such as those of
the Soil Association in the UK and KRAV in Sweden.
Strategies to improve product
supply chains are evolving more quickly for some key products and
commodities that have been identified as particularly unsustainable
from certain sources, such as timber, wild fish, palm oil and
Retailers leading the way in improving their supply
chains' environmental performance have established their own
requirements from suppliers. Examples include wood sourcing
requirements from a Swedish furniture retailer, and chemical
restrictions from a Swedish clothing retailer.
Front-runner retailers were found to invest in research
supporting the development of environmental assessment methods,
supplier standards and product innovation to reduce environmental
impact. Product carbon foot-printing for labelling purposes was not
classified as best practice owing to lack of methodological
standardisation and consumer response.
Higher percentages of certified products were sold by the
smaller retailers considered, particularly the co-operatives. Some
of these retailers collaborate with one another to reduce the costs
of green procurement.
Some specialist retailers also have a high percentage of
certified goods, reflecting environmentally pro-active use of their
market power. Larger grocery retailers face the greatest logistical
challenge, working with many large, complex supply chains.
Consequently, they tend to delegate responsibility for supply chain
sustainability to consumers.
However, consumer choice is not a major driver of
environmental improvement across products, and that more retailers
need to acknowledge their critical role in improving the
environmental performance of supply chains the researchers
Source: Styles, D., Schoenberger, H. &
Galvez-Martos, J-L. (2012) Environmental improvement of product
supply chains: A review of European retailers' performance.
Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 65: 57-78. Doi:
10.1016/j.resconrec.2012.05.002. "Science for
Environment Policy": European Commission DG Environment News Alert
Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England,