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Positive action

Positive action

02/01/2012 | Channel: E-Business / IT, Retail, Business

Checking out shoppers’ carbon footprint at E.Leclerc

Three E.Leclerc hypermarkets in Lille, France have taken part in an independent local initiative to provide shoppers with information on the environmental impact of their food product purchases in store. The information expresses the quantity of greenhouse gas as a CO2 equivalent figure that is displayed on labels on the hypermarket’s shelves as well as on till receipts at the checkout. By making shoppers more aware of the environmental impact of their in-store purchases, these hypermarkets aim to help customers shop more environmentally friendly and reduce the carbon footprint of the stores.

Thomas Pocher who runs the Templeuve, Wattrelos and Lille stores claims that the initiative was started in response to shopper demand. He explains: “It is the role of retailers to help shoppers be more environmentally responsible in their consumption. We know that people want to reduce their environmental impact, but they aren’t always sure how and are often balancing this desire with demands on their time and purse. It is ethical and right for us to help our customers make informed purchase decisions in this way.”

According to a SymphonyIRI shopper study one in three people cited ecological values as the reason for their supermarket of choice. This was higher for people who are already ecologically sensitive with 48 per cent of shoppers saying their daily gestures would be influenced.

Creating a carbon profile for consumer goods
The cloud-based carbon footprint information solution for the hypermarkets was developed by Greenext, an environmental impact agency, in association with global shopper and marketing insight consultancy SymphonyIRI Group. At its core is SymphonyIRI’s Infoscan database that contains detailed information about more than 500,000 fast moving consumer goods. This data is used to create the products’ carbon profile and covers the product from origin to consumption including:
  • Manufacturing: from raw material extraction to the exit from the manufacturing plant including the type of packaging used.
  • Distribution: from the exit of the manufacturing plant into the consumers’ basket – including how it is stored and transported.
  • Utilisation: from the exit of the shop to recycling and waste treatment.
This carbon profile is the pre-evaluation of a product’s carbon footprint and is a generic overview of all products in that category. To get the final carbon footprint of an individual product, Greenext fine-tunes the generic carbon profile by taking into account some product specific details such as the ingredients and their origin and the carbon footprint of the distribution centre used.

The CO2 equivalent score can vary significantly for different branded products in the same category depending on where the ingredients for the product originated, the type of manufacturing process it received and the way that the product and its constituent parts were transported. For instance, a pear that originates from South America is responsible for three more CO2 emissions than if it comes from France. From this initiative, so far the carbon footprint has been calculated for more than 20,000 products sold in these stores.

The project team did consider collating the environmental impact data on thousands of products in-house and had even approached manufacturers for information, but quickly realised that it would be an immense task. Thomas says: “It would have been almost impossible without the product dictionary from SymphonyIRI.”

Another challenge E.Leclerc faced was integrating the carbon footprint value into its retail systems so that it could be incorporated into customers’ receipts.

Real-time analysis at the till

The information about the carbon footprint of 20,000 products sold in these E.Leclerc stores is maintained by a sophisticated database built by SymphonyIRI Group and Greenext. Information from the database links to E.Leclerc’s Electronic Point of Sale (Epos) system so that it can be mapped against customers’ purchases and displayed on the till receipt next to the cost of the product. The combined total carbon footprint of the entire shopper basket is printed next to the total cost of the shop. The receipt also includes recommendations on how the customer could reduce their total carbon footprint by changing some of the products in their basket. For example, E.Leclerc might recommend another type of packaging for the orange juice, preferring a bigger and lighter pack (e.g. a two litre Tetrapak which is lower regarding CO2).

In just one E.Leclerc store in France over an 18-month period, 70,000 households were made aware of the carbon footprint of their weekly shop.

Reducing carbon footprint

E.Leclerc has now provided carbon footprint analysis for more than six million shopper baskets as part of the initiative. Thomas says the scheme is impacting both the carbon footprint of each store and customer loyalty. He explains: “We are seeing some switching to products with lower carbon footprint, but not a massive overnight change. This is what we expected considering that such change is a long process similar to a social mindset change.

“Feedback from customers tells us that they like the information we are providing. They understand it and find it useful. In particular they like the suggestion of a product with a lower carbon footprint. If they don’t change it in that shop, they may make the change in the next shop. The important point here is that we are making them think about the environmental impact of their shop.”

First steps
Measuring the carbon footprint of food product purchases is the first stepping stone on the path to providing a complete environmental lifecycle analysis of all consumer goods. Thomas explains: “Carbon footprint is only one measure of the environmental impact of consumer goods. In the future we would also like to take into consideration other factors such as whether the product adds to waste or impacts air or water quality.”

Products that have a higher carbon footprint may be beneficial in other ways - such as having a lower waste affect or not using pesticides. “A glass packaged product actually has a 50 per cent higher CO2 level than if the same product was packaged in plastic, but it’s clearly better for the environment because it’s recyclable,” says Thomas. “Our aim is to ring-fence these false positives and provide an explanation to the consumer.

“Thirty per cent of CO2 emissions in France are related to food products1. Our aim is to make a difference by keeping consumers informed, rather than force an immediate change in behaviour. However, with the right information, everything we’ve seen so far shows that we are making a difference. Shoppers don’t necessarily become eco warriors overnight, but they do feel better about being able to maintain their weekly grocery shop at the same time as contribute something towards reducing their environmental impact.”

The future of environmental retailing

Thomas has a clear vision for how retailing can be more environmentally friendly. The initiative in three E.Leclerc hypermarkets in France has shown that such first steps can have a positive impact on the environment as well as customer loyalty for the retailer. In the future, he hopes to introduce more comprehensive environmental impact analysis as well as customer rewards for good environmental shopping.

Given the potential for product substitution, it is likely that brands as well as stakeholders in the supply chain will become more involved in such schemes. Brands can leverage the opportunity that such schemes provide to their environmental and ethical credentials. Stakeholders in the supply chain can plug the information into their existing carbon footprint impact analyses.

Appealing to consumer sentiment gives E. Leclerc an advantage in the FMCG market and provides a blueprint that other retailers around the world could learn from. Christelle Nigron-Soares, head of SymphonyIRI Group’s retail department in France says: “CO2 information is perceived as a real benefit by shoppers. It provides an opportunity for retailers to create positive communication with their customers.”

Following on from the success of this initiative and to enable the activation of such programs for other retailers, the company Greentag was created in 2010 by Thomas Pocher to provide services for sustainable programme development.

SymphonyIRI Group is a global leader in innovative solutions and services for driving revenue and profit growth in FMCG, retail and healthcare companies. For more information, visit: www.SymphonyIRI.eu


Greenext is a private limited company with revenues of more than one million euros in 2009. Greenext has plans for international expansion and targets of more than five million euros revenue in 2011. It is at the crossroads of new information technologies that measure the environmental footprint of a product.

Greentag, established in 2010 by Thomas Pocher, and co-founded by ADEME (Agence de l’environement et de l’Ecologie) and Région Nord Pas de Calais, provides marketing services and solutions to maintain and develop sustainable programs for stores.  For further information visit: www.jeconomisemaplanete.fr

1According to analysis by Greenext