EIA – Environmental Investigation Agency – scored the biggest U.S. supermarket chains on their actions to reduce emissions of climate super pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Each company is scored on actions in three categories of technology adoption, refrigerant management, and policy & commitments.
Despite some improvement since the last scorecard in 2020, most US supermarket retailers have made insufficient progress in phasing out HFCs and improving refrigerant management practices. Of the sixteen companies evaluated, seven companies have increased their scores from 2020 by 10% or more, while seven other companies showed only marginal improvement in their scores. Meanwhile, Southeastern Grocers declined in its score and Wakefern did not demonstrate any progress, staying stagnant at its previous score. Only two companies –ALDI and Whole Foods– received passing scores.
In comparing overall scores from 2020 and 2022, the ‘technology adoption’ category has seen the largest increase. This category covers the number of new or retrofitted stores that companies have with ultra-low GWP refrigerants and the amount of HFC-free standalone equipment being used in stores. While this is a testament to growing understanding in the sector of the advantages of opting for HFC-free cooling, it should be noted that for most companies, still less than one percent of their total stores utilize climate-friendly refrigerants.
On average, a U.S. supermarket leaks 25% of its refrigerant gases a year. Across the sector, emissions from supermarket refrigerant leaks is equal to 49 billion pounds of coal burned in a year. Addressing these leaks is crucial to curbing emissions, and several companies showed progress on efforts to reduce refrigerant leak rates in stores, although only six of the companies disclose an annual average leak rate. Only three companies (ALDI, Target, and Walmart) have a public, time-bound commitment to end all use of HFCs.
Overall despite some improvement, the American supermarket sector continues to inexcusably lag behind European counterparts and it must swiftly adopt HFC-free cooling. This not only makes climate-sense, given both the reduction in direct emissions as well as enhanced energy efficiency, but also makes business-sense given new HFC regulations in the U.S. and globally, which would inevitably result in supply shortages and high prices of HFCs.
Call to Action
Given the significant global warming impact of HFCs, EIA is calling for all supermarkets to:
Develop a strategy to fully phase out all HFCs in refrigeration by 2030.
Immediately use only HFC-free refrigeration in all new builds and major retrofits.
Reduce corporate average refrigerant leak rates of HFCs to below 10% and publish progress towards this goal.
Make public commitments or goals to reduce HFC use and emissions and proactively engage with stakeholders in industry and policy settings.
Reduce the overall climate footprint of their cooling including through energy efficiency measures and easy-but-impactful steps like adding doors or night shades to open cases, upgrading to LED lighting, and reducing leaks.
Enhance transparency by regularly publishing information quantifying current refrigerant emissions, all actions taken to adopt technology, reduce leaks, increase efficiency, as well as stating measurable future commitments to reduce use and emissions.
For more information, visit the scorecard FAQ page.