Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Chilling facts about supermarket refrigeration (Feb09)


I’ve been working with the Environmental Investigation Agency on a campaign to highlight the climate change impacts of supermarket refrigeration. The HFC cooling gases used have a global warming impact that is about 4,000 times worse than CO2, so this is a huge issue.

Here’s an article that I’ve written on the results of the supermarket survey. The issue is being covered in BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth – Totally Uncool.


Waitrose was the worst of the main supermarkets in a global warming survey announced this week.

The Chilling Facts survey ranked the supermarkets according to what they have done to reduce the climate-change impact of their refrigeration.

Carried out by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) last summer, the survey put M&S top of the league, followed by Tesco, although Tesco is the biggest overall contributor to global warming through their refrigeration, because of their size.

The cooling gases used in supermarket refrigeration can account for as much as 30% of their carbon footprint. They’re many thousands times more powerful than CO2 in terms of their global warming impact. But it’s not only technically feasible for supermarkets to switch to climate-friendly gases, it would actually be cheaper if more of this type of equipment was made – although replacing fridges and freezers ahead of time will add to costs.

Another obstacle has been that very few refrigeration engineers have been trained to work with the climate-friendly cooling gases. M&S and Tesco have invested in training to overcome this problem.

Fionnuala Walravens from EIA said that she felt the survey results were ‘hugely disappointing’. She said that “supermarkets know that their refrigeration chemicals are a major contributor to climate change, but they’re not doing much to address this problem.”

In the UK supermarkets are the biggest source of global warming emissions from climate-damaging cooling gases, which are also used in air conditioning systems. In 2005 emissions from this source was equivalent to 2 million tonnes of CO2, which would be the same as for flying a plane from London to New York over 2.5 million times.

Asda and Co-op got points for energy efficiency but they had problems with leakages. Sainsbury too scored for energy efficiency but overall their carbon footprint was still increasing.

Morrisons was lagging because they refused to participate in the survey and the response from Waitrose was felt to be apathetic.

Iceland managed to score minus one because they had gone back on a commitment made in 1999. Just ahead of them is Lidl with zero points because no information could be found on how it has responded to this issue and it failed to participate. Aldi managed to score one point because of work they’ve done in Germany on climate-friendly refrigeration.

The Chilling Facts campaign has been set up to get public attention focused on supermarket refrigeration. EIA believe that this will force the switch to climate-friendly cooling gases. They plan to repeat the survey annually, so that the supermarkets can show what improvements they’ve made.




  1. M&S 42/100
  2. Tesco 32/100
  3. Asda 24/100
  4. Co-op 23/100
  5. Sainsbury 20/100
  6. Morrisons 17/100
  7. Waitrose 12/100
  8. Aldi 1/100
  9. Lidl 0/100
  10. Iceland -1 / 100


See article in Scotsman – in particular the comments! < No longer on web >

Here’s a link to coverage in the Telegraph (2feb09)

Radio 4’s Costing the Earth – Totally Uncool (2feb09)

Guardian article (2feb09) Supermarkets fingered for refrigeration greenhouse gases – A chilling wake-up call has been issued about the global warming potential of hydrofluorocarbons

Chilling Facts website


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