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Asda out in the cold over global warming

SUPERMARKETS in the UK are making significant strides to counter their impact on global warming – but the nation’s second biggest chain, Asda, has been sternly criticised for apparently turning its back on green commitments.

The new survey Chilling Facts III has found that 239 stores in the UK are now using climate-friendly refrigeration, up from just 14 two years ago.

However, Asda declined to participate in this year’s study and slumped to the bottom end of the league table, casting grave doubts over the sincerity of its 2007 public pledge to move away from using HFCs (hydroflurocarbons), which have a global warming impact many thousands of times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2).

The survey by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) quizzed supermarkets on the global warming impacts of their refrigeration for warehouses, transportation and stores. For the first time this year, it also included air conditioning systems as an issue, many of which use HFCs despite viable alternatives.

The alarming results of the first survey, published in 2009, showed that as much as one-third of a supermarket’s carbon footprint came from refrigeration gases.

In the aftermath, several supermarket chains started to tackle the issue. The number of stores running on climate-friendly refrigeration increased from 14 in the first year to 46 last year, and to 239 in this year’s survey.

Furthermore, the judges are delighted to see that some retailers have pledged to drop HFCs altogether in a specific time-frame. And the leaders – Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer – have said all new equipment will be HFC-free, showing the transition is both technically feasible and commercially viable.

There were also significant reductions in leakage of cooling gases, an important aspect of reducing the climate change impact of refrigeration. And companies were doing a lot more to monitor and maintain equipment, as well as to train engineers.

Ranking the supermarkets by performance revealed Waitrose is still at the top of the table, with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer close behind; Morrisons, Co-operative Group and Lidl are mid-field, while laggards Iceland, Asda and Aldi trail at the bottom.

Asda’s poor showing is worrying, considering the scale of its operation in the UK and the fact that its US parent Walmart is trumpeting its sustainability policies.

“We are very unhappy that Asda has not kept up with its original commitments to stop using HFCs, and disappointed that it refused to participate in the survey this year,” said EIA senior campaigner Fionnuala Walravens.

“It’s not unreasonable to ponder whether this was perhaps to hide the fact it has made little progress on this issue and deems it a low priority.

“As one of the UK’s biggest retailers, it is unacceptable for Asda to ignore such an important issue. It should be lambasted for what appears to be a major and unjustifiable U-turn on its previous climate commitments.”

Air conditioning in stores has also received little attention to date, with a heavy reliance on both HFCs and even HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons); HCFCs have a high global warming impact, damage the ozone layer and will be banned from December 2014.

EIA’s Chilling Facts campaign is being supported by Julia Hailes, sustainability consultant and author of nine books, including The New Green Consumer Guide.

“I’m so pleased to be working with the Environmental Investigation Agency on the Chilling Facts campaign,” she said. “Reducing the climate change impact of supermarket refrigeration is a really significant achievement.

“We’re delighted with the progress to date but recognise that there’s still a lot more to be done.”

Chilling Facts III research shows UK retailers to be ahead of their European counterparts in phasing out HFCs, putting them in a strong position to meet any challenging targets set by legislation.


EIA calls on all supermarkets to:

1. Commit to fully phasing out HFCs by 2015;

2. Use HFC-free refrigeration in all new builds and refits;

3. Phase out HFCs in all air-conditioning systems, transport and distribution centres.

EIA calls on the UK government to:

1. Support an ambitious HFC phase-out as part of Europe’s F-gas regulation review;

2. Introduce a tax on HFCs;

3. Provide incentives for training refrigeration engineers to work with HFC-free technologies.

Interviews are available on request: please contact Fionnuala Walravens, at
[email protected]
or telephone 0207 354 7960.

To read or download a copy of the Chilling Facts III report in pdf format, visit


1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.

2. The Chilling Facts Campaign has been set up by EIA to highlight the global
warming impacts of refrigeration and air-conditioning gases, and to promote
climate-friendly alternatives.