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UK Retailers Have Surpassed Carbon Targets Two Years Early

Britain’s top retailers have collectively reduced their carbon emissions by a third after adopting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a business framework, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), a trade association whose 5,000 members represent 70 percent of the United Kingdom’s retail industry.

Nearly 30 high-street staples, including Debenhams, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, have met their emissions targets two years ahead of schedule as part of the “Better Retail, Better World” initiative, which the BRC convened in 2018 to take on global challenges such as modern slavery, climate change, economic growth and responsible consumption and production.

Carbon emissions in absolute terms, a BRC study found, dropped 36 percent, surpassing the initiative’s 2020 goal of 25 percent. Similarly, greenhouse-gas emissions from stores and store deliveries, relative to floorspace, fell 67 percent and 47 percent, respectively, because of an uptick in biofuel and renewable-energy use.

“We are facing a climate emergency. It is ever more important for businesses to unite to tackle these global challenges,” Helen Dickinson, CEO of the BRC, said in a statement. “While we can see significant progress being made, we should not underestimate the scale of the challenge before us.”

Dickinson’s remarks came after a survey found that two-thirds of U.K. retailers believe that “true sustainability” will take at least three years to achieve because of pricing and sourcing challenges.

“Retailers aren’t shying away from that responsibility, but they are being realistic when it comes to how quickly the change can happen,” said Julie Driscoll, U.K. regional director for ITE Group, which polled 1,896 retailers at Pure London and the Spring & Autumn Fair.

At the same time, Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the England-based nonprofit behind the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 (SCAP), noted in December that the U.K. clothing industry was “looking good” in terms of environmental progress. In the five years since SCAP was established, WRAP said, its signatories achieved an 11.9 percent reduction in their carbon footprint, a 17.7 percent reduction in the water footprint, a 14 percent reduction in waste to landfill and a 1.1 percent reduction in waste per metric ton of garments.

Still, there was room for improvement.

“While the SCAP water target has been met, further action is needed to meet the carbon target, and the waste footprint target continues to look extremely challenging,” said Sarah Gray, research analyst at WRAP.