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Danish supermarkets lack ambition and action when it comes to tackling climate change

6. februar 2023
Berit Ertmann
Danske supermarkeder halter bagud på den stadigt mere klimabevidste befolkning.

Feb. 6th 2023

Danish supermarkets lack ambition and action when it comes to tackling climate change

Danish supermarkets lack ambition and action when it comes to tackling climate change

The Danish supermarkets play a vital part in transitioning people’s diets towards a more sustainable food consumption. Unfortunately, many retail chains lack climate action in several regards. This fact is made clear by a report from Green Transition Denmark and The Danish Vegetarian Association.

Danes have one of the largest per capita climate footprints from food consumption in the world. But while more and more consumers want to change to a healthier and more climate- friendly diet, including reducing their meat consumption, there is very little help available for this transition from retailers. Danish supermarkets play a key role in shifting the diet of the Danish population towards a more sustainable consumption.

This is one of the conclusions in a new report made by Green Transition Denmark and The Vegetarian Society of Denmark, which is one of several studies done by organizations in The Netherlands, France, and Great Britain. The report investigates the ten largest physical retail chains in Denmark and assesses their efforts, both in store and on a company level, to help their customers transition into a sustainable and healthy diet.

Even though several of these chains have already established some goals for reducing their indirect greenhouse gas emissions and have initiated a series of actions to reduce their negative impact, they still fall short in the matter of setting more concrete goals for these reductions, i.e. when it comes to reducing CO2 from the foods they sell.

“Retail chains should take responsibility for the climate impact of the food that they sell to consumers. And they should help customers choose healthy plant-based food options. Unfortunately, our research shows that this responsibility is not prioritized, and that the efforts that are made vary a lot in both nature and ambition. Retail chains should unite around initiatives that support consumers in making food choices that are better for themselves as well as for the planet, “ says Niklas Sjøbeck, agricultural counselor in Green Transition Denmark.  

Retail chains need to be part of the solution

Supermarkets are the main source of daily groceries for most of the population. The ten supermarkets we surveyed control almost 90 % of the Danish retail market and hold a huge amount of influence over what food people buy, through the positioning, availability, affordability, and visibility of products. Supermarkets are crucial to the transition to less and better meat and dairy, and they have the knowledge on how to influence consumer purchasing behavior and should take their share of responsibility for the transition to a more sustainable diet. Without their commitment and co-operation in supporting healthy and sustainable food choices, it will be extremely difficult to reduce the impact that our food system is having on people and our planet at the speed and scale necessary to meet critical Net Zero targets.

“The global food system is the single largest impact that we as humans have on our planet. The conventional, factory-farmed animal production is directly to blame for the climate changes and loss of biodiversity, in Denmark as well as internationally. Retail chains have a thorough knowledge of how to impact consumer behavior. Accordingly, they should take on an equal part of the responsibility for the transition towards more sustainable diets,” says General Secretary Rune-Christoffer Dragsdahl, The Vegetarian Society of Denmark.

He emphasizes the need for retail stores to become an active part of the solution to the challenges we’re facing when it comes to our food systems.

The findings in our report show that no supermarkets score adequately across transparency, ambition and action. Lidl and Coop’s supermarkets SuperBrugsen/ Kvickly and Coop 365discount score the highest respectively 27.3, 23.2 and 21.4 out of 100 points. Rema 1000 and Meny score the lowest with 12.5 and 8 points. Lidl, SuperBrugsen/Kvickly and Coop 365discount are the only supermarkets that have committed to reducing their scope 3 emissions by 2030. Meny and Rema 1000 score low (under 2 points out of 33) on both transparency and ambition and are also the only two supermarkets that neither report scope 3 emissions nor have ambitions or targets to reduce them.

The supermarkets should initially do the following to help their customers transition to a more sustainable diet:

  •   Practice transparency in relation to the total greenhouse gas emissions of the products in their stores.
  •   Make data regarding the type, amount, and production standards of sold meat public.
  •   Be ambitious and establish climate goals that aim to reduce stores’ indirect emissions by 50 % before 2030.
  •   Take on a public obligation and have a set goal to increase the supply of plant-based food options.
  •   Implement measures in store and in marketing that make customers buy less meat, for example stop the clearance and advertising of meat.

How the report was made:

We have made a scorecard for sustainability and meat, from which we estimate the ten largest retail chains in Denmark in accordance with their effort to lower their climate impact through the meat and dairy products that they sell.

The scorecard ranks supermarkets according to several indicators, which are divided into three categories: 

  1. Transparency
  2. Ambition
  3. Action. 

Some examples of these indicators include whether supermarkets are disclosing their total greenhouse gas emissions (including scope-3 emissions), whether they’re supporting farmers to make the transition to sustainable agriculture, and whether supermarkets are translating their corporate climate policies into practice in-store (for instance through clear labelling, offering a range of plant-based foods and expanding organic meat and dairy ranges). The results In total, 100 points could be earned, the first (transparency) and second (ambition) category were 33 points, the last (action) 34 points. The methodology including the indicators can be found here

The scorecard is developed in cooperation with Feedback Global (UK), Feedback EU (NL), Climate Action Network (FR), Danish Vegetarian Association and Green Transition Denmark (DK).

The report describes the problems in our current food system, and the correlation between meat consumption and climate change, as well as the steps that retail chains can take to reduce their sale of meat and dairy products with 50 pct. by 2030. A large group of experts have given their insights and contributed to the methods used in the scorecard.

The report is based on public information, data from the retail chains own websites, survey and in store visits.

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