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Meat, dairy and other animal source foods represent around one-third of supermarkets’ overall emissions. As I reminded board members at Tesco and Sainsbury’s AGMs last month, meeting net zero targets without addressing these emissions will be nigh on impossible.

This is no doubt why retailers have been slow to come up with proper net zero roadmaps, several years after making a commitment to this target. Both CEOs acknowledged this challenge, but that’s where the realism stopped and the green-waffle started.

The fact is, retail bosses continue to tiptoe around this cow in the room in favour of minor environmental initiatives, which are at best a distraction and at worst gimmicks. In the absence of real action, Feedback’s latest meat and climate scorecard finds supermarkets have now crossed the line into greenwashing.

Instead of bold commitments to cut Scope 3 emissions by reducing meat and dairy sales – starting with steps that are already familiar from other product lines, like dropping multibuy offers – retail bosses are sheltering behind the collective cover of closed industry roundtables and long-promised decarbonisation plans. We’ve yet to see much substance emerge from these closeted conversations. And, as the years tick, by the huge risks of failure to act on climate loom ever larger, illustrated by the deadly heatwave in Europe and extreme weather around the world.

Feedback’s latest scorecard reviewed the 10 biggest retailers against 12 indicators based on an academic definition of greenwashing. We found supermarkets are not only failing to adopt real transparency, for example a regular, full breakdown of their Scope 3 emissions, they are also indulging in numerous green gimmicks. These include ‘carbon netural’ claims without supporting evidence or definitions, and claims that fail to consider the full life cycle of the product – all of which risk contravening new guidance on greenwashing from the CMA.

Worse still, retailers are actively contributing to over-consumption of animal source foods by prominent product marketing, offers and recipe selections that overwhelmingly favour meat and dairy.

At the same time, supermarket PR machines are trumpeting comparatively insignificant wins on sustainability like LED lightbulbs, reduced-plastic packaging on emissions-intensive meat products, or electric vans. A quick look at the numbers shows all too clearly why this is a problem: Tesco’s entire fleet of electric delivery vans will cut 82,000 tonnes of CO2e by 2030 – only 0.1% of its carbon footprint.

By comparison, its meat and dairy sales represent around 24.8 million tonnes CO2e, according to our (conservative) estimates. Tesco didn’t enlighten me on its internal data, and one of our asks is for retailers to get real about transparency, too, publishing full breakdowns of Scope 3 emissions and protein sales.

Without a plan to massively reduce emissions from its meat and dairy sales, the UK retail sector is severely damaging its long-term decarbonisation efforts, and misleading customers and investors as to the rigour and effectiveness of its climate plans.

Supermarket bosses are due a reality check on the seriousness and intent of their climate plans, which is why Feedback has written to the CMA flagging a series of contraventions of its Green Claims Code. We’re calling it what it is: greenwashing.