So far, then, there’s not much to get excited about. In early 2007, following in the footsteps of smaller retailer Marks & Spencer, Tesco took its environmental plans further. New targets announced to reduce energy use and green house gas emissions, if realised, would constitute noticeable improvements for the supermarket.
But two doubts remain. Firstly, the promises cut across Tesco’s core business model – based on expanding massive, drive-to hypermarkets and, simply, selling ever more stuff. Even if, for example, the company reduced energy use per square metre of store, an overall doubling of floor space would likely drown out any efficiency gains. Secondly, without clear, independent monitoring and verification, it will be hard to know when, and if, targets are ever met.
What would a plan for Tesco’s behaviour look like if it were to match the rhetoric on responsibility? Nick Robins, Head of SRI Funds for Henderson Global Investors, made a range of suggestions to apply to Tesco at home and abroad, to be achieved over five years.Paraphrased and added to, they also cover 10 points – but are rather different from Tesco’s
What good neighbour?
There is something Orwellian in Tesco’s promise to become a ‘good neighbour’. Partly, it’s an admission that it hasn’t been one so far. It’s also a strategic attempt to ward off regulation and maintain market power. You can’t help suspecting that if Tesco really was your neighbour, you could wake up one morning to find a Tesco Metro built over your back garden, and a week later a Tesco Express would appear at the front. As for genuine good neighbours, they’re all different – a reality trap that even Tesco’s PR machine has yet to escape.
For more details Tescopoly by Andrew Simms (Constable and Robinson, £7.99).
Andrew Simms is policy director of the New Economics Foundation
This article first appeared in the Ecologist June 2007