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Cold comfort in retailing

The fourth Chilling Facts report will widen its review of supermarket refrigeration performance, according to Natasha Hurley

The Environmental Investigation Agency has published three editions of our Chilling Facts report since  2008, and last year we saw a significant improvement in terms of UK supermarkets’ commitment to phase out HFCs.

Last year’s report showed that the number of stores using climate-friendly refrigeration in the UK had gone up from 46 to 239 in the space of a year – this was up from just 14 three years earlier.

However, despite big improvements by some retailers, others continued to lag behind.

Let us not forget, HFCs are global warming gases many thousands of times more potent than CO2, and continuing to use them, even at reduced rates, is not  a long-term solution.

Chilling Facts III showed that, after the good intentions expressed in previous years, the roll-out of non-HFC refrigeration was finally under way.

Crucially, it demonstrated that there is a clear business case for switching to HFC-free technology, and that with the right kind of system design, big energy and cost savings can be made.

There had also been significant reductions in leakage, more monitoring and considerable investment in the  training of engineers.

We’re currently working on our fourth Chilling Facts report. This year, we’ve extended our reach to the European retail sector and have had a good level  of response.

We’re still analysing all the data, but our expectations are that supermarkets that were already on the right track will have continued the good work, and those that were lagging behind their peers will have sat up and taken notice of the opportunities out there for switching to low-GWP alternatives.

From the very beginning of the Chilling Facts campaign we have looked at a whole range of aspects related to commercial refrigeration, including leakage, energy efficiency, training and measures such as doors on cabinets.

In fact, if you look at last year’s report, you’ll see that leakage reduction is right at the top of the list of the elements we considered.

We certainly think it’s important to look at the big picture and it’s clear that refrigerant choice is only one part of the picture – but it’s a vitally important one nonetheless, and from our point of view it’s something that can be tackled effectively and permanently.

Regarding changes for this year’s survey, we’ve made some of the questions more specific, but it follows the same basic template as in previous years.

We felt it was important not to change things too much given that – for the UK supermarkets at least – the idea is to demonstrate progress over the years.

As mentioned, we are expanding our reach into Europe. Having spent three years investigating the UK market, we felt it was time to broaden our focus this year. Frankly, we’ve been so impressed by the changes we’ve witnessed on the UK market since the publication of our first report, that we thought it was worth adopting a similar approach at European level.

We tend to think of UK supermarkets as pioneers in the field, but maybe we’ll be proved wrong. It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the EU F-Gas Regulation is currently under review; this has created an added sense of urgency for retailers as they gear up to adapt to new legislation.

Against that backdrop, we hope that this year’s report will showcase some of the good work that’s happening within the sector, and provide some examples of best practice for others to follow. We also want to highlight areas which are trailing behind, such as food transport, where high-GWP HFCs are still alarmingly prevalent.

Publication of Chilling Facts IV is scheduled for July.

Natasha Hurley is global environment campaigner for the EIA

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