Tesco and sustainability: every little helps?

Tesco has been attracting its usual share of bad press, following the recent publication of its latest Corporate Responsibility Report – and rightly so.

Not because Tesco’s strategy is necessarily bad. Credit where it’s due, the stats for their new environmentally friendly stores, such as the one at Cheetham Hill in Manchester, are actually quite impressive.

My beef with Tesco has less to do with what it’s doing and more to do with what it’s saying about it – the attempted positioning of Tesco as an international leader in tackling climate change and their claims to be “setting an example” for others to follow.

The problem lies in the fact that these relative improvements cut across a core strategy that remains fixed on significant international expansion – one that, by the end of 2009, will have seen a 286% increase in Tesco’s overall floor space since the millennium.

As a consequence, whilst Tesco attempts to trumpet an 4.7% reduction in carbon emissions per unit of floor space, its negative impact on the environment continues to grow in absolute terms – by 8.6% in the last year alone.

The new stores are a worthy progression, but hardly justification for claims to be leading the way – particularly when paired against the likes of Interface, who are working towards the elimination of any negative impact by 2020. If Tesco were the example to follow, then all we’d be doing is slowing the rate of decline.

With my CR Continuum about to be included in a major global research project, commissioned by IABC, it’s a timely reminder of the model’s usefulness as a potential greenwash detector.

Take a quick glance at it, and it should be immediately clear that, whilst it may talk a Level 5 game, Tesco’s approach is firmly rooted at Level 3. It’s an (the?) archetypal example of an organisation whose rhetoric on CR and sustainability doesn’t match the reality, and it just ends up handing more ammo to the Tesco-bashers.


2 thoughts on “Tesco and sustainability: every little helps?

  1. Johny Smith

    hi there, iw as reading the things about Tesco said here and are very interesting…. i am doing a report on tesco, do u know if they are following any recognised schemes or guidelines with regards to sustainability and waste management??? thanks..



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