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Transport accounts for nearly a third of Tesco's emissions, making it a priority in the supermarket's goal to reach net-zero in the UK by 2035

How Tesco embraced the electric revolution

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Karl Tomusk

As an early mover on net-zero targets, Tesco has made real headway in cutting its emissions since its first carbon neutral pledge in 2009. That year, it opened its first zero carbon store, in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, and set out plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Tesco has now halved its emissions from its 2015/16 baseline and last year brought forward its net-zero target for the UK to 2035. It also launched an electric delivery fleet in London as part of a plan to go fully electric by 2028.

PlaceTech spoke to Anna Dowson, group head of energy at Tesco, about those plans and about some of the wider progress the supermarket has made in going green.

On Tesco’s EV plans

“We have two programmes involving EVs: one to decarbonise our fleet of home delivery vans, and one to build the UK’s largest retail network of EV chargers for our customers.”

Alongside rolling out EVs, Tesco is installing 2,400 charging points for customers across 600 stores to support the wider adoption of electric vehicles. That initiative, it says, will boost the UK’s electric charging network by 14%.

On the role transport plays in cutting emissions

“Transport, both home delivery and distribution logistics, contributes around a third of our operational (scope 1 and 2) emissions, making it the biggest hotspot to tackle.”

Since 2015/16, Tesco has cut scope 1 and 2 emissions from about 2.3m tonnes of CO2e to 1.1m tonnes. The bulk of that reduction has been in scope 2 emissions – indirect emissions from electricity and heating – which have fallen more than 92% from 1.1m tonnes to just 83,028 tonnes in 2019/20, largely due to a switch to renewable energy. All of Tesco’s electricity in the UK is 100% renewable. It now needs to cut its scope 1 emissions – its direct emissions from gas and other fuel consumption. EVs will play a central role in that.

Anna Dowson Tesco

Anna Dowson, group head of energy at Tesco, is driving the supermarket’s EV adoption agenda

On the limits of EVs

“Within [operational emissions], we see EVs providing the solution for around half of those emissions. For the remaining long haul LGVs, we are likely to need an alternative solution, such as hydrogen, in the coming years, as the battery ranges are currently limiting. We are currently looking closely at innovations to cut emissions from our distribution trucks and lorries.

On targets for going electric

“We have internal annual targets for fleet conversion in order to structure the long-term capital plan accordingly. In line with increasing market availability, our glide path of conversion to EVs increases exponentially up until our deadline of 2028.”

On Tesco’s progress in cutting emissions since 2009:

“Cutting emissions is a big part of our plan for climate action, where we’re prioritising those areas where we can make the biggest difference – energy, transport, waste, food production and diets. We have halved our emissions since our baseline year and this has been achieved through energy efficiency measures across stores and logistics, switching to renewable electricity and switching to lower-GWP refrigerants.”

Tesco has invested more than £900m into energy and refrigeration efficiency improvements since 2006, including LED lighting, aerofoil technology, refrigerant leakage reduction and initiatives on ‘colleague culture change’. In its 2019/20 report, Tesco estimated those changes have contributed to annual savings of about £200m and more than 200,000 tonnes of CO2.

All of the electricity it purchases for the UK, Ireland, Hungary and Slovakia is now renewable, and it has switched to natural refrigerant gases or low global warming potential gases in 3,000 stores – including 1,000 in the UK. It expects to complete the switch to lower GWP refrigerants in the UK by 2035.

On using offsets

“At present we do not offset any emissions. In line with science-based methodology, we are focused on tackling the root cause of global warming by minimising our absolute emissions first, before offsetting only those residual emissions that remain once we have done everything we can.”

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