The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has been, depending on your viewpoint, the conscience of the European retail refrigeration industry or a thorn in its side for the better part of a decade now. The EIA makes no pretense of the fact that it doesn’t think that HFCs represent environmentally responsible refrigeration, and that HFOs aren’t really much better.

In the EIA’s world, natural refrigerants are the cooling agent that every supermarket should strive for. The group doesn’t have much traction with those in the refrigeration industry who argue that a) the EIA model of "pursue natural refrigerants in new systems at all costs" takes no account of economic realities in a highly competitive retail climate; b) has historically overlooked the impact of the existing estate and the need to stop leakage from older systems; and c) ignores the benefits of the new generation of HFOs.

The EIA’s brilliant idea has been to use supermarkets’ fear of negative publicity as an instrument of change. Its chosen weapon in the war on retail refrigeration is a report on supermarket environmental progress called Chilling Facts.

The relations between some retailers and the lobbyists over the years have been tense to say the least. It didn’t help that the first few editions of Chilling Facts took a number of U.K. supermarkets to task for their slow progress towards naturals, based on some pretty subjective criteria, while some supermarkets that sought to cooperate by providing extensive emissions data were rewarded with fierce criticism.

It wasn’t entirely surprising, then, that the combination of what was felt to be unfounded criticism and exasperation at the constant demands for data resulted in supermarkets refusing to co-operate with the reports.

This, somewhat inevitably, led to the "bad guys" getting even more stick in the ensuing reports. I should say at this point that it isn’t only Asda, the one retailer which has remained steadfastly refrigerant agnostic (which EIA would no doubt translate as "anti-naturals"), who has chosen not to cooperate but also the retailer arguably leading the U.K. pack on naturally refrigerated stores, Sainsbury’s.

Over the years, Chilling Facts has had to cut its cloth accordingly. Therefore, its once-dreamt-of comprehensive roundup of emissions data has given way to more subjective analysis of progress.

EIA has cannily widened the net to include retailers on the mainland, who not only are more cooperative than their British counterparts, but also more widely committed to natural refrigeration. The seventh report boasts findings from 22 retailers covering an impressive 37 countries.

At the same time, the report now does cover the once-omitted area of energy efficiency, represented by that favorite subject of retail refrigeration managers: doors on fridges. It also includes a Green Cooling Leader accolade for those retailers it adjudges to be ahead of the rest. This year, the lucky recipients were Metro, Kaufland, Albert Heijn, Aldi, Tesco, Migros and Waitrose.

In the context of the F-Gas regulations and their drive towards lower GWP, the seventh report does provide something of a window on retailers' progress towards reduction in use of the notoriously high-GWP refrigerant R404A.

The report notes its concern at the lack of awareness about the impending major cut in HFC quotas and consequent price rises, which it says "risks leaving retailers with an eye wateringly high annual refrigerant bill."

In a manner typical of the report's stance, while it notes that many major retailers have recognized the need to stop using high-GWP refrigerant, it goes onto urge them to install HFC-free systems rather than transitional options — HFOs.

Chilling Facts says that top of the list for the roll-out of HFC-free cooling is German retailer Aldi Sud, increasing its stores using natural refrigerants from 345 three years ago to 891 last year — and 602 of these are transcritical CO2.

Also applauded is Carrefour, consistently the darling of the natural refrigeration lobby. The French-based firm stands alone in embracing HFC-free refrigeration in warmer climates, with 147 systems using transcritical CO2 in warm locations.

But how useful the report is to the industry is an interesting discussion.

It certainly sheds light on of the sometimes-unfulfilled ambitions of the major retailers (and/or broken promises), and the EIA is clearly not awed by their size or brand reputation. But does it sting retailer A or B into action, or does it merely expose the state of play to their rivals?

The Chilling Facts report ends with a call to arms, making its position on natural refrigerants clear. It says, "There is no excuse for inaction by Europe’s retailers. The commercial refrigeration sector must swiftly adopt HFC-free refrigeration, a move that makes perfect business sense given the inevitable supply shortages and high prices of HFCs in the years to come."

Whether the European cooling industry agrees with the whole of this or not, the first part is certainly true — with shortages and high prices on the way, there is no excuse for inaction!