Public awareness of the climate crisis has grown considerably over the last decade, and UK supermarkets have gladly adopted climate-friendly marketing initiatives to match customer expectations. New ‘green’ packaging, climate targets and advertising campaigns promote this green image, but so far detail on Net Zero remains thin. Notably, no UK supermarket has set targets to reduce sales of meat and dairy, despite the fact that these high-polluting products are responsible for around a third of their overall emissions.
Buy One Get 2 Degrees
As an industrialised country, the UK consumes more than our fair share of global meat and dairy. Alongside other measures, such as halving food waste, reducing this consumption could deliver a fifth of emissions mitigation needed globally to stay within the Paris Agreement’s global warming limit of 2°C. Due to the short-lived but highly potent methane that characterises meat and dairy production, and the low-cost nature of simple dietary transition policies, the benefits of transition away from meat and dairy could be felt much more quickly than decarbonisation in other areas of the economy. Occupying a key space between people and food producers, supermarkets should be at the centre of this transition.
However, our research shows that all 10 UK supermarkets are failing to take basic measures to address their sales of carbon-intensive meat and dairy products. Instead, the retailers continue to over-sell, utilising multibuy deals, prominent placement, and advertisements. Meanwhile, they employ ‘Selective Disclosure’ tactics, making environmental claims based on narrow or irrelevant information, intended to distract shoppers from the supermarket’s wider, and more significant, environmental impact. Examples include Tesco’s ‘Greener Greens’ vans, disproportionately promoting a 0.1% annual carbon reduction for the supermarket giant; and Aldi’s claim to ‘carbon neutrality’, taking advantage of loose industry terminology that excludes the remaining 99.33% of their emissions originating in their supply chain.
The reality is that by continuing to over-sell meat and dairy, the supermarkets are fuelling the UK’s contribution to the climate crisis.
Meat Us Halfway
Feedback is calling for serious action from the UK’s food retail sector. That means:
- Complete transparency amongst retailers about how much of their climate footprint is linked to meat and dairy sales;
- A clear and realistic pathway to Net Zero emissions which includes targets to sell less of their highest-emitting products;
- Action to drop promotions on meat and dairy products with immediate effect – in the same way some retailers have dropped promotions on products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).
If the sector cannot demonstrate these shifts, the government’s own legally binding Net Zero targets will be in jeopardy, either forcing regulation or accelerating the climate crisis. When the stakes are this high, greenwashing cannot continue.