Supermarkets are a salient place to start in practicing more sustainable habits. Everything we eat, use and wear has a long history of people and planetary resources in its production, so every pound spent on shopping lists is a vote for animal welfare conditions, environmental impact, human rights and health protection across the world.

We are spending 49 pence per pound in supermarkets these days, and less of our income on food than ever. Supply chains are spread globally, with long labyrinthian chains from shopper, to supplier, to producer. Often the crazy cheap prices and savings are experienced by the very bottom of the ladder, the farmers and growers in developing countries.   

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The most ethically minded big supermarkets are Co-Op, Waitrose and M&S. But shopping locally and seasonably is also great.

Habitually buying items that are Fairtrade, organic, and sustainably sourced over processed, genetially modified and factory famed. 


Great campaigning and growing customer concern for fair practice has meant greater customer awareness of:

  • Organic produce

  • Genetically modified crops

  • Vegetarian and vegan options

  • Fairtrade / ethical supply chains

  • Resource and waste management 

  • Energy efficiency stores and supply


No supermarkets actually disclose their actual greenhouse gas emissions openly. But Co-Op, Aldi, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose are leading the way on battling climate change.


Co-Op and Aldi get almost all the energy they use from renewable sources.

Co-Op and Waitrose are achieving excellent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Iceland, Asda, Morrissons, Sainsbury's and Tesco have small targets for reductions by 2020.


Marks & Spencer claims to be the only carbon neutral supermarket in the world ad gets 100% of its energy from renewable sources.


Sainsbury's and Aldi also have installed solar panels and biomass and ground source heat pumps across the UK, and Tescos has invested a little bit in solar in Thailand. 

animal welfare

The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has been officially ranking supermarkets since 2012.


They believe in avoiding confinement and mutilations, reducing GMO, antibiotics, growth hormones and inhumane food types, whilst promoting better transportation and slaughter habits.  

1 Leadership:         

  • Marks & Spencer, Waitrose

2 Integrating:         

  • Co-op, Tesco

3 Needs work:        

  • Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda 

4 Some progress: 

  • Aldi, Lidl

(Not ranked: Booths, Spar, Iceland, Ocado)

Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have all have some focus on helping bee populations. However, no supermarkets have policies to address bee welfare in their own supply chains. I's a tricky topic, but aim for organic, fairtrade if imported and preferably local.


Co-op is considered the largest organic supermarket farmer in the UK. Waitrose and Ocado received the latest organic supermakrket award from the Soil Association and Sainsbury's and Aldi also has a big range of organic stuff.  


Supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year - over half of our household waste. 

The Co-operative has set its own target of 80% of its products having packaging that is easy to recycle by 2020. Iceland has pledged to compltely remove all plastic packaging from their own range by 2023.

The UK Plastic Pact has aims to make 100 per cent of plastic waste reusable, recyclable or compatible and 70 per cent effectively recycled in supermarkets. So far  Asda, Aldi, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have all signed up to the initiative. 


Aldi has been named as best British supermarket for sustainable fish, 79 per cent of their seafood range is sustainable.


Sainsbury’s sells the largest number of certified products with 76 per cent of its wild seafood range. Lidl is next with 72 per cent, Waitrose has 67 per cent, the Co-op is on 61 per cent and Tesco with 48 per cent. For Marks & Spencer, however, the figure is only 19 per cent.

Iceland and Morrisons are way down below with less than 5 per cent of their seafood range Marine Stewardship Council certified.

However the Marine Stewardship Council has faced severe criticism for certifying unethical or unsustainable brands to grow their organisation and membership. So best find local sources of fish from fisherpeople who use ethical methods. 

palm oil

Ethical Consumer gave Waitrose and M&S best rating for their palm oil sourcing policies. All the rest of the supermarkets receive our middle rating, except for Lidl who only sent their German stock lists and Ocado, Booth and Spar who didn't respond.

They all claim to use 100 per cent RSPO certified palm oil in their stocks. 

The issue of palm oil is a huge topic, and requires massive structural and systemic shifts to protect ecosystems and livelihoods. People passionate about helping can either choose to avoid the ingredient, or buy high quality, Green Palm certified products.


Remarkably, Lidl scored the highest in Ethical Consumer's fairtrade study. Co-Op were a pioneer brand on fairly traded cocoa and still lead the way. Aldi and M&S are also making strong, verifiable targets. The others are talking about fairtade cocoa, without many impressive metrics.

The global cocoa industry is infamous for child labour and unfair payment of workers. It is best to buy products which are working with Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance. 


Which supermarket to visit...

Ultimately, since their emergence in the last hundred years, supermarkets have become huge pillars of corporate domination, battling each other for customers through price drops and offers which usually leaves workers at the bottom of the production line with the hardest deal.

It's best to approach the most ethical supermarkets like Co-Op and Waitrose, and target the most ethical products when doing a big shop. Don't forget pennies are votes for best practices, and enter the statistical metrics which prompt suppliers to continue their work.


However, finding local food schemes like veg boxes, whole foods, bulk buys and corner shops will prevent your pounds from supporting growing injustices around the world.   

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