Sainsbury's wrestles with Tesco for environmental high ground

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The Independent Online

J Sainsbury has claimed its green credentials outstrip Tesco on important environmental issues such as energy efficiency.

The resurgent supermarket group, which reports its results tomorrow, is keen to wrest control of the green moral high ground back from Tesco after its bigger rival launched an ethical business drive last week.

Sainsbury's environment manager, Alison Austin, said: "We have been piloting things they are only now beginning to talk about." Sainsbury's first green store opened for business in Greenwich, London, seven years ago; Tesco is working on plans for its own version, which it says will be the world's greenest store.

Sainsbury's executives are privately rattled by Tesco's high-profile attempt to seize the initiative with pledges such as doubling the amount that customers recycle at its stores, using 25 per cent fewer plastic bags over the next two years and sourcing more local produce. Sainsbury's believes Tesco is playing catch up after lagging behind for several years, particularly when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

Sainsbury's said it hit Government-agreed targets to cut carbon emissions "well ahead" of Tesco, reducing emissions from its sites by more than 20 per cent since 2000. It has been using waste to generate electricity and heat for some time, winning a carbon management award for its work this year. In Tesco's 10-point "community plan", it promised to halve the average energy used in all of its buildings by 2010 compared with in 2000.

On the hot topic of nutritional labelling, Sainsbury's was the first supermarket chain to use the traffic light warning system, as endorsed by the Food Standards Agency, in January last year.

It is rolling the colour coding out to all its own-brand products bar meat, gifts and staples. Tesco has refused to adopt the Government scheme, instead using labels that tell people what proportion of their "guideline daily allowance" of sugar, fat and salt is used up by each product.

"To see them change their tune is quite interesting but we have been doing things on health for the last 12 years and the environment for the last eight or nine," Ms Austin said. Sainsbury's said it was ahead of Tesco on cutting back on the amount of packaging used on its products. Ms Austin said Tesco's pledge to make all its carrier bags degradable by September "misses the point" because degradable bags are still made with the same amount of fossil fuels.

Both groups are doing more to source food locally: Sainsbury's hit its target of sourcing 70 per cent of its organic produce from the UK one year ahead of a Government deadline.

Green activists want to see all retailers go further. Sandra Bell, the supermarkets campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Sainsbury's tries to market itself as a greener, more ethical retailer with higher quality produce but I'm not sure we've seen real evidence of that.

"On issues such as energy efficiency and their approach to out-of-town stores I can't see there is a real difference [with Tesco]."

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