Big players join forces to improve the environmental impacts of their products

12th March 2013

The Co-operative Group, Nestle and Sainsbury’s are going to test ways to improve the environmental performance of some of their products, following new ground breaking research published today from the Product Sustainability Forum* (PSF).

The research looked at the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, product waste, and water, energy and resource use of traditional grocery products through their life cycles. Through that it identified priority products - for example potatoes and bread – which offer significant opportunities for improvements across the different types of environmental impact.

As a result, the Co-operative, Nestle and Sainsbury’s are the first companies from the grocery and home improvement sectors that will pilot projects known as ‘pathfinders’, to target their efforts where many of the biggest environmental savings are. More companies will follow. These pathfinder projects will also help to improve the resilience of supply chains and help to manage potential business risks.

The findings of the research report - ‘An initial Assessment of the Environmental Impact of Grocery Products’ - has been published today by WRAP on behalf of the PSF.

The research brings together product life-cycle data from over 150 published studies and from PSF members and industry, making it the most comprehensive study of its kind. 

Over 3000 data points inform the analysis and provide an invaluable knowledge base for information on product-level environmental impacts.  Detailed findings and data sources are provided in the report’s appendices, which contain information for over 200 grocery products.

This approach to tackling the environmental impacts is also being used by WRAP to review the electrical and home improvement markets. The electricals report will be released in coming months and the home improvement report will be released later in 2013.

Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP and Chair of the Product Sustainability Forum said:

“The main objective of this important research has been to establish which grocery products are likely to contribute the most to environment impacts associated with UK household consumption.  By gaining a better understanding of the products that matter in the context of UK consumption, we can help businesses to prioritise their efforts to improve the environmental performance of their products in areas that will generate the biggest economic and environmental savings.”

The Co-operative and Nestle will respectively look at waste prevention and resource efficiency measures across potato, milk and chocolate supply chains, while Sainsbury’s is focussing on its meat, fish, and poultry products as well as produce.

The Co-operative Group is engaging internal stakeholders across its entire fresh potato value chain, from farm to fork, to identify and implement opportunities to prevent waste and improve wider resource efficiency (energy consumption, water consumption and GHG emissions).  The intention is that the learnings from this exercise will be replicated across other fresh produce in the future.  Nestle is working on a collaborative project with its principal milk supplier in the UK: First Milk, supported by the PSF.  As well as taking an integrated approach to tackling resource efficiency, the team are working with a group of dairy producers to pioneer new working methods.

Liz Goodwin added: “This integrated approach enables companies to consider the biggest environmental and cost saving opportunities.

“By highlighting opportunities for improvement the PSF is enabling whole supply chains to come together and tackle the hotspots that have been identified.

“The PSF approach is to focus on solutions, and these pilots are the start of that process. By bringing all of the key players into the forum and sharing information they can collectively deliver more sustainable products whilst also identifying what will work best for their own sector or business.”

Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager, The Co-operative, said:

“We are very pleased to be able to bring expertise from across our retail and farming businesses to this project.  This will allow us to identify areas where we can make environmental savings while still delivering great quality products.  The work aligns perfectly with the aims of our Ethical Plan, in which we committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage, supporting and developing green energy and reducing waste throughout our business.”

Stuart Lendrum, Sainsbury’s Print and Packaging Manager, said:

“Reducing our impact on the environment is fundamental to our long-term sustainability and we are delighted to be part of this invaluable project.  Its overall aim is closely aligned with the targets we have set ourselves in our 20x20 Plan and working in collaboration throughout the supply chain with a shared goal of making a real impact supports the way we work with our dedicated British suppliers.”

Inder Poonaji, Head of Safety, Health and Environment Sustainability, Nestle, said:

“We are really pleased to link our sustainability programmes with WRAP – together we can make a difference.”

Lord de Mauley, Defra Resource Management Minister, said:

“It is great to see major household names leading the way to cut out wasteful food practices in the UK. By simplifying the production of their goods, we know that businesses can save themselves billions of pounds while reducing their environmental impact. We hope this research will inspire other companies to take action to improve their efficiency.”

Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: 

“Finding new ways to improve the sustainability of the products they sell and produce is key for both retailers and manufacturers and I welcome this research which gives a comprehensive insight into this issue. I will be keen to learn how the two pathfinder projects, which are taking place in Scotland, develop.

“Meeting Scotland’s ambitious Zero Waste Plan will take the concerted efforts of all of us and I am pleased that the Forum has come together to address what can be done to minimise the environmental impact of grocery goods.”

Any organisation interested in being involved in a pathfinder project should contact Karen Fisher at

Notes to editors:

View the full report here -

It provides a platform for these organisations to understand, improve and communicate the environmental performance of the grocery and home improvement products bought in the UK. Further information about the Forum and its members can be found at  

The top 50 product groups, where many of the biggest environmental savings could be made, were grouped at a level considered to be most useful for business**, (listed alphabetically, by category):

  • Alcoholic drinks: Cider and perry; Lager; Spirits; Wine
  • Ambient: Breakfast cereals; Canned fish and seafood; Canned meat products; Canned vegetables, soups, pasta and noodles; Cat food and dog food; Chocolate; Coffee; Crisps (potato); Processed snacks; Rice; Sugar confectionery; Tea
  • Bakery: Biscuits (sweet); Bread and rolls; Cakes, pastries and morning goods
  • Dairy: Butter; Cheese; Milk and cream; Yogurt
  • Fruit and vegetables: Bananas; Onions; Potatoes; Tomatoes
  • Household: Dishwashing products; General purpose and toilet cleaners; Laundry detergents; Toilet paper and kitchen rolls
  • Meat, fish, poultry and eggs: Beef (chilled and frozen); Deli food; Eggs; Fish and seafood (chilled and frozen); Lamb (chilled and frozen); Pork (chilled and frozen); Poultry (chilled and frozen)
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: Carbonates; Concentrates; Juices
  • Other chilled and frozen: Frozen vegetables and potato products; Ice cream and frozen desserts; Margarine; Pizza (chilled and frozen); Pre-packed sandwiches; Ready meals (chilled and frozen)
  • Personal care: Bath and shower products and shampoos; Deodorants; Nappies

These products are an initial ‘Top 50’ that will be reviewed and expanded in future iterations of the PSF’s prioritisation efforts – in particular when the PSF’s work on water impacts for non-food and drink products has been undertaken and when further supply chain waste data have been collated.  A further 20 products will be identified in spring-summer 2013.  It is estimated that together these will comprise more than 90% of the GHG emissions associated with producing, transporting and retailing the grocery products consumed in the UK.

**Products were grouped at a level considered to be most useful for business, for example, rather than a broad category of red meat, products were separated out into major groups like beef and lamb, but not into further sub categories such as beef mince or leg of lamb.

As with any research of this kind, the study has a number of limitations and results should be interpreted with this in mind.  The findings are not intended to set an impact baseline for the grocery sector, nor to make a detailed comparison of one product type with another. 

Based on the research findings the PSF is working with its members and wider industry to identify pathfinder project ideas in some of these categories that can address known product environmental hotspots and test practical solutions in real supply chains. The Co-operative and Nestle, amongst others, will be involved in the process with the aim of demonstrating the potential of product-related actions in delivering environmental, financial and wider business benefits.  The pathfinders will also help the PSF and its members understand how these benefits can be replicated across the industry.

About WRAP
WRAP’s vision is a world without waste, where resources are used sustainably. It works in partnership to help businesses, individuals and communities improve resource efficiency.

Established as a not-for-profit company in 2000, WRAP is backed by government funding from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

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Shona O'Donovan

PR Manager
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Clare Usher

PR Officer
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