Terry Leahy, the CEO of Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in Britain, spoke at the 5th June 2009 conference “The politics of climate change : from economic crisis to business revolution”. His mood was ebullient, it seemed to me.
“We’re going to miss all the targets we set ourselves.” I think he might have been referring to both the Kyoto Protocol and the UK / EU 2020 targets, so I don’t know why he seemed so buoyant about it.
“[The targets] are based on a number of wrong assumptions. It’s not just the Government that has a key role. [I’m not] downplaying technology, [but] we can’t be sure that technology alone will rescue us from Climate Change.”
And here he introduced his killer idea. “The focus depends on people. We blame people for waste, consuming, flying too much. [People have promoted the idea of] Personal Carbon Allowances, [desperate] to stop people doing things. If we want to turn people off, we tax or regulate to reduce consumption. We are in danger of forgetting the lessons of planned economies – leads to stagnation, dissolution…one lesson – going against the grain of people’s desires is inefficient and fails.”
And here he brought us bang up-to-date with one attempt at environmental taxation. “In Ireland, [when the plastic bag tax was introduced], the reduced consumption of bags was temporary, so they put the tax up again…In Tesco UK we reduced usage not by a tax but an incentive for re-use, just one Clubcard point. To reward behaviour [is] a fraction of the cost of penalising behaviour. Goes with the grain of people’s lives.”
Here he dug deep into the pop psychology that’s so prevalent these days, it’s whipping around in the wind like a loose post-consumer plastic bag. “Climate Change will only be tackled by appealing to what is best in people, not by stopping people from doing things.”
And then he uttered the economists’ drooling dream “You can be green and grow. Choosing between green and growth is wrong. If we [cut consumption], do you think China will inhibit opportunities to grow ?”
At which point his internal dichotomy sucked him up like a great booboo and squished him into the eternal vacuum. Not. But let me make this abundantly clear to my reader (there’s only one of you this evening) : Chinese economic growth is entirely dependent on international trade – its key lever.
China only manages to leverage massive levels of economic growth because of trade with international partners. China is suffering resource stress (for example in fresh water supplies and crop failures), and so could not grow without standing on the shoulders or retail giants like the United States. This means that if the United States were to contract its economy, in a planned or an unplanned way, then China’s economic boom would stall.
Terry Leahy cannot understand the relationship between China’s economic development and Western consumption, but I digress. He continued, “Green growth allows us to [continue growing]. We need consumers to embrace [new] technologies and services. It’s not a pipedream. All our research shows our customers want to go green but need help. If we take things away [they won’t play along]…
Schwarzenaaarrrgger said, “make it cool to go green”. [We need to] build demand for Low Carbon consumption. [And] encourage Business to lower their own Carbon footprint. When you’re at the supermarket checkout, each barcode “bleep” [means] “produce more of this”. Give consumers more information and they’ll buy greener – and the global supply chain goes greener. A technological revolution must underpin it.”
And then his coup-de-grâce, “consumers are directly or indirectly responsible for 60% of emissions”.
Now, hold on a tarnation minute, Mr Tesco. The reason that consumers are responsible for 60% of emissions is because the only products, services and utilities available for their consumption are High Carbon.
So, actually, it’s not the fault of consumers that their retail, home Energy and transport choices cause so much Global Warming Pollution. They actually have no choice but to emit. In living their daily lives, doing their ordinary human things, they are forced to emit.
Terry Leahy continued, “We’ve learned a great deal about how to reduce Energy use”. I should hope so, Terry. Your stores use, on average, six times as much Energy per square metre as any of your customers use at home.
“We’ll have 500 products [Carbon emissions] labelled by the end of the year.” Bravo, but that’s not actually reducing actual emissions now, is it ?
“On average, new stores will use half the Energy they did in 2006.” And will that be because they are smaller ?
And then a gobsmacking nugget of clear unrefined truth, “most of our Carbon comes from our stores.” Shucks and lawks a lordy !
And then some news, “Ramsay in Cambridge will be our first Zero Carbon store [opening] this year.”
Actually, that’s quite ambitious :-
It doesn’t cover all the transport that is used to fetch the food to the store, and it doesn’t cover all the transport that people use to get to and from the store, but if it works, that would be quite a step forward.
Terry Leahy went on to paint the bigger picture, “[In] tackling Climate Change, collaboration is vital. [We are all] interdependent. We can play our part in logistics and distribution. We are going to put electric charging points [in our car parks]. [The target is] not to “green” Tesco – [our aim is to] create a mass movement in green consumption. Consumers are agents of change. Trust them…[take a] fresh approach…Consumers are a force for good.”
In questions to the panel, he returned to the issue of China, “[we need to be] practical. Even if we decided to consume less, China won’t stop. We’re not going to solve [Climate Change] by consuming less. [Also] we can already see tax measures that don’t cause change.”
We’re invited to the Last Trolley Dash in the Belly of the Beast. Last one past the Unholy Checkout, please turn out the compact fluorescent lights.