The U.S. supermarket sector continues to “inexcusably lag behind European counterparts,” says the Environmental Investigation Agency’s (EIA), an international NGO, based on analysis conducted for its latest Climate-Friendly Supermarket Scorecard.

The Supermarket Scorecard 2022 was published by the EIA on July 6 and assesses the largest U.S. supermarket chains on their adoption of HFC-free technology, refrigerant management and policy and commitments.

Despite seeing some progress since its first scorecard in 2020, the EIA says that U.S. supermarkets “have made insufficient progress in phasing out HFCs and improving refrigerant management practices.”

The EIA is calling on the sector to swiftly adopt HFC-free cooling.

“It is imperative that supermarket chains dramatically scale up adoption of HFC-free cooling,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Lead for the EIA. “It not only makes climate sense, but also makes business sense given new regulations would inevitably lead to supply shortages and higher prices of HFCs.”

“It is imperative that supermarket chains dramatically scale up adoption of HFC-free cooling as it not only makes climate sense, but also makes business sense given new regulations would inevitably lead to supply shortages and higher prices of HFCs.”

Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA.

Supermarket Scorecard 2022 results

Only two of the 16 companies evaluated by the EIA received what it calls “passing scores,” with ALDI receiving 79% and Whole Foods scoring 51%. Target came in third with 38%. These three companies are the only ones to have public, time-bound commitments to end all use of HFCs.

Given the “widespread availability of climate-friendly technology,” the EIA believes that there is significant room for improvement across all of the companies evaluated, even the top scorers.

According to the EIA’s analysis, none of the supermarket chains is excelling in all three categories.

ALDI is leading the way in technology adoption, with hundreds more HFC-free stores than any other competitor. The scorecard shows that besides the top three scorers, the other thirteen companies have less than 1% of their stores using HFC-free cooling. In fact, Giant Eagle, Meijer and Southeastern Grocers have yet to install HFC-free refrigeration in a single store, although the evaluation found that several stores do have partial installations.

Meijer received the highest score in refrigeration management with an average leak rate of 6% and a goal to reduce this number. According to the EIA, the average U.S. supermarket leaks 25% of its refrigerant gases a year. Across the sector, refrigerant leaks are responsible for 45 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year in the U.S. While several companies showed progress on efforts to reduce refrigerant leak rates in stores, only six of the companies disclose an annual average leak rate.

Walmart scored highest in the policy and commitments category.

‘Lackluster progress’

Since 2020, only seven of the companies have increased their scores by 10 percentage points or more. Another seven have shown marginal improvements. Meanwhile, Wakefern did not make any progress (10%) and Southeaster Grocers’ score declined from 2% to 0%.

“Congress, courts and corporations continue to squander opportunities for climate action in this most urgent decade,” said Mahapatra. “This includes the U.S. supermarket sector, which, barring incremental progress by some companies, has overall shown a lackluster progress in breaking away from HFCs.”

Walmart received 15% in 2020’s scorecard, but following stakeholder pressure and the EIA’s investigative report on its stores leaking HFCs, the company has opened its first U.S. HFC-free store, set a timeline to phase out HFCs and advocated for regulations on HFCs. This year, the company received an overall score of 28%.

Kroger has made similar progress, with its score increasing by 19 percentage points, from 16% in 2020 to 35%, in 2022. This comes as the supermarket chain is facing growing pressure from shareholders and consumers to take action against HFCs.

EIA’s calls to action

To accelerate the phasedown of HFCs in the retail sector, the EIA has shared a set of recommendations for supermarkets. The list includes developing a strategy to phase out all HFCs by 2030, only using HFC-free refrigeration in all new builds and major retrofits, and reducing refrigerant leak rates to below 10%.

The EIA is also calling on supermarkets to enhance transparency by making public commitments and regularly publishing information on progress made.

“Public, shareholder and regulatory pressure is growing for companies to tackle these climate-damaging emissions,” said Beth Porter, Senior Climate Policy Analyst at EIA. “We’re calling on retailers to immediately commit to using HFC-free systems in all new stores and to release time-bound plans to end their use of HFCs across their operations.”

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