The John Lewis Partnership has made impressive progress on curtailing emissions during expansion and sourcing certified materials

When a business doubles in size in a decade, as the John Lewis Partnership has, managing carbon emissions and economic growth becomes a juggling act. Although the relative emissions (tonnes of carbon per unit of sales) of the partnership, which owns food retailer Waitrose and John Lewis department stores, have been steadily falling since 2001, the absolute emissions of the company have risen by almost a third over the same period.

Now JLP, which is owned by its employees or “partners”, is taking a step back to review its environmental targets and see where improvements can be made. With the help of environmental consultancy ERM, the company has updated its in-house carbon footprint to include refrigerant emissions and has also reviewed data to check for inaccuracies, according to guidelines from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the World Council for Sustainable Development.

Gemma Lacey, corporate social responsibility manager at JLP, says the company brought in ERM as an independent emissions auditor this year to ensure its figures were “robust” and followed best practice, and to help the company publicly display its emissions data in the most user-friendly way.

A new environmental steering group has been established to set realistic targets for each area of JLP’s carbon footprint. The steering group, which is chaired by the director of building services, features representatives from across the business. It reports to JLP’s responsible business group, led by the partnership’s chairman, Charlie Mayfield.

Currently crunching this year’s carbon data, the environmental steering group is, according to Lacey, giving “full consideration” to setting absolute rather than relative reduction targets. “The relative targets have reflected the fact that we’re a fast growing business,” explains Lacey. “Delivering an absolute emissions reduction still remains a challenge.”

Most of the emissions growth stems from opening new stores, Lacey says. “In the case of John Lewis we’ve built new stores. In the case of Waitrose we’ve either acquired stores from supermarkets, such as Somerfield, or built new stores.”

Energy savings plateau

The partnership is concerned about its positioning on the carbon reduction commitment (CRC) league table, the first carbon trading scheme for medium carbon emitters in the UK, which will open for trading in April 2011. The rules of the scheme are still somewhat hazy, and JLP is still awaiting its full CRC registration pack. It is not even clear how retailers will be compared under the CRC. “We have yet to decide on the units to be published – ideally these need to enable sector comparability,” Lacey says.

While JLP is keen to be recognised for its past achievements on energy efficiency, it is more wary about future energy savings. “Energy efficiency at Waitrose has improved by 19% since 2003, and 18% at John Lewis,” Lacey says. “It will become more challenging, especially in our existing estate, to then find further areas to make energy efficiencies.”

As a result, the focus is now on making new stores as energy efficient as possible. To reach this goal, JLP has worked with not-for-profit consultancy Forum for the Future to define a stronger policy on sustainable construction, and store refurbishment. Waitrose is also committed to achieving a “very good” rating under the Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method (known as BREEAM) from 2009 on all newly built stores.

Recycling construction waste has been another area of improvement, with JLP claiming to have achieved more than 95% recycled waste on a couple of its new build projects.

Grainy picture

In its furniture business, John Lewis is making gradual progress on buying sustainable timber. While independently certified Forest Stewardship Council timber is the ultimate objective for all timber bought by John Lewis, the company acknowledges this is “a long term goal”. To that end, John Lewis uses all other non-FSC certification schemes (such as the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, the Tropical Forest Trust and Global Forest and Trade Network) as evidence of progress.

The company’s primary focus has been on outdoor furniture. Four-fifths of John Lewis’s outdoor furniture is currently FSC certified and, according to the company, this will increase to 100% by 2010. “We are now focusing our attention on indoor furniture,” Lacey says, and by 2012 John Lewis is aiming to have one of the best certified ranges of furniture available.

However, tracking the origin of John Lewis furniture will be tricky. Made from 30 different species of timber, including some tropical hardwoods, and sourced from about 40 different countries, the retailer admits that keeping tabs on where all the timber comes from and checking that it has been legally sourced is a major task. And John Lewis has yet to tackle other furniture brands sold in its stores. No minimum timber standards exist for either its own or external furniture brands, and John Lewis has yet to refuse to sell any wood product on the grounds of being unsustainable.

The cold facts

Having carried out extensive trials in reducing refrigeration emissions, Waitrose is gearing up to launch a new refrigeration system, which will use a propane-based natural refrigerant. The system will be showcased at the new Altrincham branch opening later this year, and phased into all branches from 2010.

According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, about a quarter of the carbon footprint of supermarkets comes from the cooling gases used in refrigeration systems. Once the new system is implemented, the global warming potential of the non-hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant used will be reduced by 99.6% compared with its HFC predecessor.

Lacey also lists refrigeration as one of the company’s easiest wins on energy efficiency. Waitrose has made a hefty £55m investment in replacing its refrigeration facilities with more energy efficient equipment. Refrigeration, according to Lacey, is the food group’s biggest source of energy consumption so the cost savings have justified the big spend. Meanwhile, John Lewis has developed a policy of promoting A-star rated energy efficiency electrical products to customers.

One of the most challenging areas to cut emissions is transport, Lacey says. “To date we’ve focused on reducing mileage, and using the cleanest available technology, but … some of the bigger businesses that have larger scale can make greater efficiency savings.” According to Lacey, JLP is “working with key suppliers to forward-and-back haul”. It has yet to share deliveries with other chains, although the company would be open to the idea.

Unlike supermarket heavyweight Tesco, Waitrose is not considering trailing carbon labels on its product packaging. But the Waitrose agronomy team has started work on calculating the carbon footprint of its fruit and veg section using the newly developed UK product footprint guidelines, PAS 2050. The team started work last year with consultants to calculate the data.

The John Lewis Partnership corporate social responsibility report will be published at the end of October 2009, and will make interesting reading for other companies that need to tackle some of the environmental issues on which JLP is taking a lead.

Timber policy

The John Lewis Partnership developed its timber policy in 2003. This four-stage timber supplier assessment system comprises:

Origination: timber of known origin.

Evidence: timber from verified legal sources (the minimum level to ensure continuation as an approved supplier).

Verification: verified timber from sources showing active progress towards certification, demonstrated though membership of independent schemes.

Certification: independently certified FSC timber – the long-term objective for all timber purchased by John Lewis.

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