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Supermarket refrigeration scandal uncovered

Report exposes damage caused by supermarket refrigeration in the UK


THE Co-operative Group’s green and ethical credentials have been called into question in a new survey examining the impact of supermarket fridges and freezers on global warming.

The Chilling Facts survey found that the Co-operative Group is using the ozone-destroying refrigerant HCFCs in 50 per cent of its depots and has recently refitted stores with HFC-based refrigeration instead of more environmentally friendly alternatives. HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) will be banned by the EU this year because of the gases significant impact on the environment.

The survey, carried out by London-based campaign group the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), asked supermarkets about the global warming impacts of their refrigeration for warehouses, transportation and stores.

The Chilling Facts Report is launched today and reveals that only 2 per cent of all major supermarket retail stores throughout the UK are using HFC-free refrigeration systems, despite awareness of the enormous environmental damage caused by HFCs.

HFCs (hydroflurocarbons), widely used by UK supermarkets and originally introduced to replace ozone depleting CFCs, have a global warming impact 3,800 times greater than CO2.

Leaked refrigerants account for about one-third of a supermarket’s direct climate change emissions. Leaked emissions of HFCs have a global warming equivalent to 1.13 million tonnes of CO2. The level of leakage alone is equivalent to one billion car journeys to the average local supermarket – or 400,000 return flights to Australia.

“The Government needs to listen to the needs of the supermarket and refrigeration industry – many organisations are looking for clear direction and deadlines for the elimination of HFCs,” says EIA campaigner Fionnuala Walravens.

“Though some supermarkets have made a good effort over the last year to tackle the issue of HFCs, the survey results are disappointing, showing that we have a long way to go. We need serious action and a firm long-term commitment to the elimination of HFCs from the leading supermarket retailers.”

Governments need to act now as emissions from HFCs (used in refrigeration and air conditioning) are predicted to escalate in the next decade with a climate change impact equal to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2, about four time’s the UK’s current total greenhouse gas emissions.

Waitrose moves from near the bottom to the top of the league in the 2010 survey thanks to its commitment to rolling out HFC-free refrigeration in all new stores and major refurbishments. It was also commended for implementing innovative leakage reduction measures and trialling HFC-free options for transport refrigeration.

Following last year’s Chilling Facts survey, both M&S and Sainsbury’s have committed to phasing out HFCs by 2030 through the adoption of new environmentally friendly alternatives. M&S has already installed CO2-based systems in 13 of its stores. There are currently 46 supermarket stores running climate-friendly refrigeration, up from only 14 stores in 2009.

There are viable alternatives that can be used for refrigeration. The climatefriendly alternatives have been adopted in countries such as Sweden and Demark and by major multinationals such as McDonalds and Coca Cola. But UK supermarkets are slow to make the change.

EIA’s Chilling Facts campaign is supported by Julia Hailes, sustainability consultant and author of The New Green Consumer Guide. She comments:  “Without government leadership, supermarket boards struggle to push the topic of HFC refrigeration to the top of the agenda. Given the impact of HFCs on climate change, there’s no excuse for government inaction on this issue. They should set and enforce a phase-out date rather than wait to be pushed by the retailers.

“As much as 30 per cent of the climate change impact of supermarkets can come from refrigeration cooling gases. If we can get them to switch to climatefriendly alternatives, it would be vastly more significant than cutting back on carrier bags.”

Another finding of the survey was the continued shortage of engineers qualified to work with climate-friendly refrigeration.


Urgent Call To Action – from EIA

1. All supermarket retailers to phase out the use of HFCs in stores, distribution centres and transport by a deadline of 2015.

2. The use of HFC-free refrigeration systems in all news supermarket buildings and retrofits from January 1, 2010.

3. Government action on introducing legislation to reinforce the deadline for the removal of HFCs from refrigeration among major retailers.

4. Government and industry funding for training the refrigeration industry in installation and maintenance of climate friendly alternatives so that HFC options are even more accessible to supermarket retailers.


To download a PDF of the full EIA Report on the Chilling Facts Campaign, go to

Interviews are available on request with EIA, independent analysts and supermarket retailers. Please contact:
• Sophie Rivett Carnac, Spring PR Consultancy Tel: 07855 834 430
• Fionnuala Walravens, EIA Global Environment Campaign and Chilling Facts Campaign Manager. 0207 354 7971 or 07939 035481
• Julia Hailes, Sustainabilty Consultant and author of The New Green Consumer Guide and Project Advisor. 01935 864423


Notes to Editors:

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 promote climate-friendly alternatives.

3. The Chilling Facts survey was conducted in the Summer of 2009 by sending a out a questionnaire asking supermarkets about their refrigeration in-store, behind the scenes and for transport – as well as about leakages, energy efficiency, the training of refrigeration engineers and future plans.

4. The Chilling Facts Campaign Steering Group reviewed the information from the survey and awarded points. Its members were: Fionnuala Walravens from EIA; refrigeration expert, Nick Cox from Earthcare Products; and sustainability consultant, Julia Hailes.

5. Leaking refrigerants accounts for about a third of a supermarket’s direct climate change emissions.

6. In 2005, the global warming impact of supermarket HFC emissions was equivalent to producing 10 billion plastic carrier bags, taking two billion car trips to the supermarket or flying from London to New York more than 2.5 million times.