In order to move towards net zero carbon emissions, more and more companies are looking at electrifying their fleets. A competitive spirit emerges amongst food retailers on the road to transport sustainability.

UK supermarket chain Asda said in July that its fleet of staff vehicles will comprise only electric company cars by 2025, as the retailer accelerated its sustainable transport plans amid the environmental awakening taking place in the world of commerce. The grocer’s switch away from diesel and petrol to electric is expected to remove 2,411 tonnes of CO2 from its operations over the next four years – all important when considering the commitment of individual businesses and the whole UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord climate goals.

The move is driven from within too, with Asda saying the change comes after 85% of its workforce who opted for a company car as part of their benefits package chose to go electric. Petrol and diesel vehicles will be off Asda’s fleet by June 2025 – five years before the UK government’s general ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles comes into force – in evidence the retailer is taking this particular transportation policy very seriously indeed.

Build back better
I’m not one for government slogans in general, but the ‘build back better’ mantra that has gained traction among politicians following the easing of pandemic lockdown measures in the UK is one I support. Particularly, the push for a greener economy within that wider call to action. And it appears many retailers are on board with it too, highlighted by their propensity in recent months to kick start new environmental drives, embed more eco-conscious processes into operations, and appoint dedicated directors of sustainability strategy.

From a transportation perspective, the big grocers operate the largest distribution fleets – and they are all battling to make their collection of vehicles more sustainable, which would make a significant difference to retail’s overall impact on the environment as it moves goods from A to B. Companies are acknowledging the seriousness of the climate crisis, which is motivating them into action. However, it seems the UK’s grocers’ perennial competitive spirit is also a factor in bringing about change.

Other retailers
Tesco is aiming to fully electrify its home delivery fleet for its dotcom business by 2028. Currently, the UK’s largest retailer operates just over 5,000 vehicles, of which only a small percentage are electric-powered. Co-op procured its first electric vehicles for online home delivery, last December, and aims to replace its fleet of fossil-fuel powered home delivery vans with electric alternatives by 2025. Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, claims to be the first UK grocer to introduce fully electric refrigerated trucks to its delivery fleet, which it says do not emit carbon or particulate matter such as dust, dirt, soot or smoke into the air. In addition to its company car policy, Asda has also turned to electric transportation to ferry its click and collect orders from stores to pick-up points.

Electric avenue
At the turn of the millennium, the grocers were involved in a highly competitive race for space - as the number of supermarkets in the UK ballooned and different formats materialised. Now the race appears to be centred on who can electrify their transportation quickest.

The good news is that with environmental benefits attached to such strategies, we’re all victors in this particular battle. We’ll then hope to see that competitive spirit continues in other areas of transportation strategy, such as warehouse and distribution efficiency, which will also go a long way to making retail a more sustainable industry.

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