Tesco tries to become a better neighbour

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The Independent Online

Tesco went on the offensive against critics that have slammed Britain's biggest supermarket group as an uncaring retail giant by unveiling a 10-point plan to turn it into a "better neighbour".

The strategy promises a wealth of "green" initiatives from cutting its carrier bag usage by 25 per cent over the next two years to championing local and regional produce. It comes two weeks after the group, which made profits of £2.2bn last year, promised to spend £100m on sustainable environmental technology, such as powering its stores' lighting with wind turbines and building the world's "greenest store". The group will spend tens of millions of pounds more on the pledges unveiled yesterday.

Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive, promised yesterday his plans would not be "high-blown rhetoric, but solid, practical Tesco changes". Cynics seized on the fact that he unveiled the new community strategy one day after the start of a Competition Commission investigation into the supermarket sector that threatens to single Tesco out as the worst culprit of systematic planning and pricing abuse.

Sir Terry, speaking at the Work Foundation think-tank in London, called on the Government to shake up the planning laws to make it easier and faster to secure consent for installing the likes of windmills and solar panels on his 2,000-plus UK stores. He also asked the Government to rethink the business rate system to incentivise companies for thinking green.

A spokesman for the new Department for Communities and Local Government said local planning authorities already "looked favourably" on applications for micro-renewable technology such as mini-wind turbines and worked to an eight-week deadline for a decision.

Sir Terry wants more Government funding for expensive recycling machines that sort rubbish on the spot to help the group meet its aim of doubling the amount that its customers bring back to stores for recycling by 2008. Because the group's products generate so much debris, hitting that goal means it will contribute 10 per cent of the UK's EU packaging recycling targets.

With such public pledges about its commitment to local communities - it has made the community one of its top corporate priorities alongside customers, finance, operations and people - Tesco is hoping to avoid the fate that has befallen Wal-Mart in the US, which has been nicknamed the "Bully of Bentonville" (the US town it is from).

Rising antipathy towards Tesco has seen the creation of Tescopoly.com by pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and War on Want, where consumers can join a campaign against the company. War on Want unveiled a similarly inspired AsdaWatch website yesterday. Tesco's critics dislike its 30 per cent share of the grocery market and its unfettered march into towns and villages across the UK thanks to its push into the convenience store sector.

Sir Terry said yesterday the group would try to be less obtrusive as a neighbour by cutting the number of noisy deliveries at unsociable hours to its small Express outlets. He also promised storefronts that would blend in better with the local setting.

As for addressing criticism that its stores open in places it is not wanted - witness its stalled attempt to open up in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire - Sir Terry said Tesco would consult local communities "proactively" from 2007. "This is not a paper exercise. It will be our opportunity to listen and do practical things about concerns," he said.

It is a moot point as to how much more Tesco is doing than its rivals. J Sainsbury launched its first green store in 1999 and has cut the amount of carbon emissions from its stores by 20 per cent since 2000.

The 10-point action plan

Tesco promises to...

1 - Halve the average energy used in all Tesco buildings by 2010 compared with the year 2000.

2 - Double the amount customers recycle at stores by 2008.

3 - Make all carrier bags degradable from September and use 25 per cent fewer bags over next two years.

4 - Put nutritional labelling on all own-brand products by spring 2007.

5 - Help educate parents about healthier food for their children.

6 - Get 2 million people running, cycling or walking in sponsored events leading up to 2012 Olympics.

7 - Be a quieter neighbour by cutting the number of deliveries to Express convenience stores.

8 - More consultation with local communities before building new stores from 2007.

9 - Make it easier for small suppliers to gain access to Tesco.

10 - Sell more local products than any other retailer and introduce regional counters into stores.

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