Sustainable Hypocrisy

If you have read my posts or tweets over the last few months then you will probably know that I am pretty peeved with Sainsburys over the future of the Greenwich store that I helped design for them back in the late 1990s. Sainsburys want to move to a more profitable location and, apparently, to stop any competitor gaining a foothold in the area they have placed a legal covenant on the land at Greenwich to prevent it from ever being used again as a food store.

The building was specifically designed to be the best and most energy efficient food store possible, mainly through a passive approach but also by recycling heat from the refrigeration plant and cooling the surplus with groundwater. To prevent this groundbreaking building being reused for its intended purpose is the anthesis of sustainable development.

The passive design features of the building (daylight, thermal mass, natural ventilation) would equally benefit many other retail uses, but the only party currently interested in purchasing the site is IKEA, who apparently cannot imagine how to adapt their big blue artificially conditioned box model to use daylight.

Both Sainsburys and IKEA have defended their respective positions. Their people in charge of sustainability have stated that the store was a prototype, things have moved on since 2000 and both new stores will incorporate the latest sustainable technologies. Well I think that shows just how little clue these corporate sustainability wonks really have. As far as I know daylight has been around for a while, is pretty well proven as a concept and is not likely to be superseded any time soon.

In IKEA’s case they state that their new store “will achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating and will include technologies to help minimise the store’s carbon footprint such as photovoltaic (solar) panels.” Funny that they consider this to be an advancement in sustainability when, 15 years ago, the original building achieved the first ever retail BREEAM ‘Excellent’ without any contribution from solar panels. IKEA goes on to state how they are reducing their carbon footprint across stores by 11% through switching to advanced LED lighting. Hmmm.. the Sainsburys Store reduces lighting energy consumption by around 80% simply using daylight! I think it is unlikely that IKEA will ever recognise the irony of generating electricity from the sun just to run their technically superior LED lights.

Then, the other day, I read an article about Sainsburys proclaiming their latest sustainability hit, a new store powered entirely by food waste, presumably the kind of approach that represents a “significant advance” over passive energy conservation as used at Greenwich. It seems that a new store at Cannock in Staffordshire is to have a private wire connection to a near by anaerobic digestion and generation facility and will send its food waste there for conversion. Yes this will divert food waste from landfill and put it to a better use, but this is not a sustainable solution. Food is for eating! What will happen when energy demand at the store increases, will Sainsburys start to deliberately divert food to the waste stream in order to keep feeding the anaerobic digester?

The supermarket retail model is largely responsible for the waste of around 40% of food. This is a HUGE problem! A business that was genuinely focussed on sustainable development would be working to reduce the food waste problem at its root: packaging, handling and overstocking. To try and greenwash a problem like food waste with pseudo energy efficiency really is the worst sustainability hypocrisy that I have ever come across.

If Sainsburys and IKEA want to demonstrate that they are genuinely concerned about sustainable development then they will have to try a lot harder, or they should simply shut up. At present all they are achieving is to demonstrate that they really are only prepared to pay lip service to sustainability in the pursuit of profits.

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