Readers will know that European supermarkets have made significant progress in recent years in converting their properties to lower-energy systems using lower-carbon refrigerants. Transcritical carbon dioxide systems have rapidly become the technology of choice for supermarket refrigeration managers wanting to reduce the global warming potential (GWP) of their stores.

Now, a European-funded initiative called SuperSmart is hoping to hasten the take-up of greener refrigeration methods, along with heating, cooling, waste reduction and other environmental measures, by proposing an "Ecolabel" for food retail stores — a literal stamp of approval that supermarkets can apply for if their stores are "eco-friendly," meeting a range of environmental criteria.

In this way, the proponents believe, this will provide for European food retailers a similar combination of benchmarking and incentivizing of progress to that provided by the U.S. EPA’s GreenChill certification.

The EU Ecolabel — denoted by a flower symbol — has been in existence since 1992 as a way of benchmarking the environmental impact of products, services and facilities across their entire life cycle. Currently, over 30,000 products have achieved the accolade in a wide range of sectors.

But so far only two types of "facilities" have established an Ecolabel scheme: tourist accommodation and camp site services. Food retail stores would thus be the third overarching category in Europe, and stakeholders envisage that up to 21 categories of environmental criteria could be included, as they seek to make "a demanding, yet achievable label for all of Europe."

The SuperSmart project’s nine stakeholders, funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Innovation Framework Programme, represent associations, academic institutions and research groups from eight countries across Europe. They include the International Institute of Refrigeration, research groups SINTEF and UBA, and the German Environment Agency. Interestingly, the countries represented don’t include the U.K., which is presumably one of the first consequences of its Brexit policy.

The stakeholders have released a preliminary report on the project. This week at the EuroShop retail exhibition and next week at the European ISH HVAC exhibition they are holding open meeting to discuss the direction of travel.

In announcing the report, the project stakeholders explained how the label could improve environmental progress for the retailers. They said: "An EU Ecolabel for food retail stores will help to increase the awareness on environmental impacts of such stores all over Europe. The EU Ecolabel criteria for food retail stores will show store owners how they can reduce the impact of their stores.

Thus, it can serve as an example of implementing environmentally friendly measures. It can also encourage retailers to improve the energy efficiency in their stores for example. Overall, EU Ecolabel criteria for food retail stores could considerably help reducing the energy consumption and as a consequence the greenhouse gas emissions in Europe."

There are currently three national schemes in Europe that certify food retailers if they meet certain environmental criteria — the German Blue Angel, Norway’s Nordic Swan and Sweden’s Good Environmental Choice — but the SuperSmart project team wants to see a Europe-wide set of standards.

One of the key criteria of the proposed scheme, the stakeholders contend, is that environmental achievement should not just be seen as applying to one sector, such as food quality or construction standards, but as an integrated whole.

They say: "[We should] think holistically in the planning: including the building; operation (refrigeration and HVAC, lighting, paper use, cleaning...); transport (both goods and customers); and disposal of waste etc."

The benefit for retail and for the industry, the report concludes, is that an EU Ecolabel can help drive change, particularly in refrigeration, which of course is a major component of energy use for food retailers, but in but in consumer behavior, too: "The label is known and acknowledged in all of Europe, and shall inform customers that the products have a low environmental impact. The goal of the EU Ecolabel is to sustain the environment for both today's and coming generations, and the label helps consumers to see which choices they can make to reduce their own environmental impact."

At the same time, the SuperSmart project itself has wider goals for improving development of environmentally friendly techniques. Its three objectives are to support the introduction of the Ecolabel, and to develop draft criteria; to remove non-technological barriers to efficient heating and cooling in the European food retail sector; and to raise the expertise level for energy-friendly supermarkets among technical and non-technical staff members through promotion and training.

It is this process of knowledge-sharing, as much as the ultimate development of the Ecolabel itself, that looks set to accelerate European food retailers on the journey towards more environmentally-friendly cooling.

More details on the project and the full report at: