Major U.S. supermarket chain Kroger, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, is facing pressure from investors and consumers to take action on its use of HFCs.

On June 23, at Kroger’s Annual General Meeting, 35% of voting shareholders supported a resolution, which was filed by Friends Fiduciary on May 19, requiring Kroger to issue a report on its plans to “address its HFCs and meet its climate goals,” according to a recent statement from the Environmental Investigation Agency (IEA).

The vote, which according to the EIA received a “strong showing of support from investors,” resulted in Kroger pledging to include HFCs in its 2022 Climate Roadmap. However, the EIA said that Kroger “did not provide any specifics on how the company will address HFCs.”

During the shareholder meeting, which was held virtually and is available on demand, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen, said that “[Kroger] appreciates the proponents’ ongoing engagement with Kroger; however, the framework they are requesting us to adopt is overly prescriptive and therefore not in our shareholders’ best interest.”

According to Friends Fiduciary’s resolution, “Kroger’s apparent lack of a comprehensive plan to eliminate HFCs in refrigeration exposes Kroger to financial, regulatory, and reputational risks.”

Growing consumer pressure

Along with shareholder support for stronger action against the supermarket chain’s use of HFCs in its refrigeration systems, consumers have also voiced their concern.

On June 9, NGOs Green America and the EIA launched a petition calling on consumers to sign a letter to Kroger’s CEO urging the company to “end its use of HFCs in all facilities and stores by 2030.” To date, over 12,300 people have signed the letter.

While HFCs account for over 60% of Kroger’s direct greenhouse gas emissions, the company has only committed to using non-HFC alternatives at seven of its new stores, according to EIA and Green America. The petition calls on Kroger to adopt ultra-low global GWP refrigerants and replace the current HFC systems at all its nearly 2,800 stores by 2030.

“While Kroger says it is pursuing ambitious carbon reduction targets, it continues to use obsolete potent super greenhouse gases for cooling,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Lead at the EIA. “The shareholder resolution and mounting customer pressure underline the reputational risks associated with this cognitive dissonance. Kroger has an obligation to stop its continued reliance on these gases, to walk the talk and become a part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

“Kroger has an obligation to stop its continued reliance on [HFCs], to walk the talk and become a part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA

According to the EIA’s recent statement, both NGOs will “continue to put pressure on Kroger until the company releases a plan to eliminate the use of HFCs.”

“Kroger needs to listen to customers who understand the dangers of climate change and the need for companies like Kroger to address it,” said Dan Howells, Climate Campaigns Director at Green America. “Significant action is needed to keep the communities Kroger serves safe from climate impacts, and what they are currently doing is basically ‘clean up in aisle nine.’”

Want to find out more, or have something to say about this story? Join the ATMO Connect network to meet and engage with like-minded stakeholders in the clean cooling and natural refrigerant arena.