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U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Fulfill Commitments to Phase Out HFCs

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a new report exposing leading U.S. retailers such as Walmart, Publix, and Safeway as doing little to meet public commitments to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), some of the most potent greenhouse gases (GHGs), used most commonly in refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

Beyond the Dirty Dozen, a follow up to EIA’s 2013 report The Dirty Dozen, reveals that despite readily available climate-friendly alternatives, shockingly few supermarket chains are replacing leaking refrigeration systems or using HFC- free-systems in new stores. In 2014, U.S. companies opened only eight new supermarkets featuring HFC-free refrigeration, far fewer than retail chains in Canada, Europe, and Japan. Of the 12 companies EIA surveyed for this report, including Whole Foods Market, only one—Delhaize—is considering a commitment to completely phase out HFCs.

HFCs are a growing contributor to climate change due to increasing global demand for refrigeration and air conditioning. President Obama has made reducing HFC use a key pillar of his Climate Action Plan. Across the United States, more than 37,000 supermarkets contain refrigerators leaking an average of 1,556 metric tons of CO2-equivalent of HFCs each year. This amount is equal to the GHG emissions from approximately 12 million cars annually.

The United States, along with Canada, and Mexico has submitted proposals to the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs globally, and the United States has also made separate agreements with China and India to work together to reduce HFC consumption and production.

“America’s supermarkets are falling far short of playing their part to contain dangerous climate change”, commented EIA Executive Director Alexander von Bismarck. “In particular, Walmart’s failure so far to follow through on its commitments are a disaster for the global climate. As the world’s largest retailer Walmart has a responsibility to lead and not to undercut its sustainability commitments, and those of the U.S. government.”

Eight of the dozen supermarkets surveyed by EIA are members of the influential Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global network of the world’s largest retailers and food manufacturers. In 2010, CGF members agreed a resolution to begin phasing out HFCs in new refrigeration equipment by 2015.

EIA’s report, Beyond the Dirty Dozen, surveyed 12 retail chains accounting for approximately 45 percent of U.S. supermarkets: Albertson’s, Ahold, Costco, Delhaize, HEB, Kroger, Meijer, Publix, Safeway, Target, Walmart and Wholefoods. Each supermarket’s performance was rated in four areas: HFC policies and uses, partnerships and pledges; refrigeration inspection and maintenance to reduce HFC leakages, and energy efficiency. Each store could earn up to a total of 40 points.

Key findings of the report include:

• Delhaize was the only retailer that exceeded a 50 percent score, earning 23 points.
• Walmart, now America’s largest grocery store, has built more than 800 new U.S. stores since the 2010 CGF resolution but not a single one that is HFC- free. In 2011, current CEO Doug McMillan called on CGF member retailers to join Walmart to “reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent.”
• Target provides no publicly available data on HFC leakage or refrigeration maintenance but announced that its new stores would use a reduced HFC charge in a cascade system.
• Meijer and Safeway have no public plans to install either HFC-free refrigeration systems or HFC-reduced hybrid systems in any of its stores.

For full score breakdowns, by supermarket, download the full report (pages 13-16).

In contrast with the U.S. supermarkets, the Canadian retailer Sobeys has nearly 40 HFC-free stores in operation.


Maggie Dewane, Communications and Press Officer, +1 (202) 483-6621, mdewane@eia-global.org

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