The retail sector accounts for around 24.5% of all jobs in Europe. It is also responsible, however, for 2-3.5% of CO2 emissions. Distribution and supply chains generate a significant environmental impact. The retail sector is an important source of waste both directly and indirectly, for example, through household waste. Between 10-15% of local waste is generated by the commercial sector, for instance, through the use of plastics in packaging, bags and bottles. Therefore, small retail companies can play an important role in achieving a more sustainable society and helping consumers make informed choices.
The main objective of the GREEN COMMERCE project was to provide the retail sector with access to knowledge, research and technology on new environmental management systems. The ultimate goal was for the 3.5 million firms in this sector to have their own methodology to enable them to voluntarily start green policies. The project aimed to develop a self-evaluation tool for retailers that the sector could use to comply with EU environmental policy. The strategic objectives included helping small companies reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to help combat climate change; promoting environmental responsibility in the retail sector; demonstrating reductions in energy use and waste products by simple measures; stimulating innovation on environmental issues; and mobilising European consumers to become more environmentally friendly.
The GREEN COMMERCE project successfully demonstrated measures that can be used by small businesses in the fight against climate change, the promotion of environmental sustainability, and the reduction of energy consumption and waste production through simple techniques. This was done through the development of an innovative tool and methodology.
The LIFE project developed an online and free-of-charge environmental self-assessment tool to enable small retail businesses to assess their current environmental behaviour, based on 11 environmental factors: water, hazardous products, materials consumption, noise, odours, packaging, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, visual impact and integration in urban setting, and environmental accountability. The tool also offered the best practices that are applicable to each activity and a catalogue of improvements that can be carried out. A practical demonstrated of the self-assessment tool was done in collaboration with the owners of 187 small Spanish retail shops (50 in the municipality of Torrevieja and 137 in San Sebastián).
In a second stage, 187 environmental audits and 100 energy audits were conducted, based on data provided by the evaluation tool. These audits were performed by technical staff, who visited each shop a minimum of three times, to check compliance with the requirements and to suggest improvement measures where applicable. According to the energy audits carried out in 47 shops in Torrevieja, the implementation of the improvements suggested allowed annual savings of 1 263 600 litres of water and 384 946.73 kw/h of electricity (?107 388.63), representing a lowering of carbon dioxide emissions by 103 935.62 kg.
The project developed a new green trademark for small retail shops: Green Commerce certification. This was awarded to retail shops that had reached the required self-evaluation score, some after overcoming deficiencies found out during audits. Several tangible improvements were suggested to the shops, including the installation of consumption reduction devices (e.g., tap timers), the use of biodegradable or organic products, the use of control systems (e.g., automatic switch-off configurations), and the use of low-consumption lighting units. At the end of the project, 69 retailers were Green Commerce certified (47 in Torrevieja and 22 in San Sebastián).
The GREEN COMMERCE Best Practice Catalogue, Guide and promotional video proved very useful to the retailers, helping them get immediate results when using the self-evaluation tool, even without technical support. The methodology and tool developed by the LIFE project can easily be transferred to other companies in the retail sector around the world. The project concept was already being applied in 23 other municipalities of the Valencian Community months after the project finished.
The self-assessment tool was linked to a catalogue of good environmental practices for small businesses, including reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change. Among the main benefits to the retailers involved in the project were cost reductions; consumption savings (e.g., water, electricity); use of sustainable and efficient products, services and technologies; and new market opportunities, such as the opening of niche markets for organic produce. Therefore, the project proved that it is possible to reduce the environmental impact of retailers through simple actions that can improve their economic management, bring competitive advantages, and also strengthen the environmentally-responsible attitudes of entrepreneurs, workers and consumers.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).