Woolworths: it will be much smarter, greener, kinder & healthier.
You drive to Woolworths in your electric car and put it on charge in the supermarket car park, next to rows of bike racks. You enter an airy building - the temperature is perfect, thanks to renewable electricity powering the store’s smart cooling and heating.
The building harvests rainwater and has solar panels on its roof, with energy-efficient lighting. The fridges and freezers, kept cold via low-impact natural refrigerant gases, have doors to save energy.
You scan electronic shelf labels to find specials for products close to their expiry date - no food goes to waste here; it’s either sold or donated. The labels also give information about the supplier of each product, health ratings, and its packaging.
You go straight for the Woolworths own brand products because they are known for their high health rating, recyclable packaging, lower carbon footprint, and sustainable ingredients sourced responsibly.
Own brand eggs and eggs used in own brand products are 100 per cent cage-free. Meat and dairy products come from farms where animals have their physical and mental needs met, and they are free from any hunger, distress, pain, thirst or fear.
The team is helpful, relaxed and smiling. They use the wellbeing app regularly (right now 30 per cent of Woolworths team have accessed it) and a range of tech innovations support their safety. There is no gender pay gap here and, from shop floor to executive, the team reflects the diversity of the country it serves.
When you are finished shopping, you just walk out – smart technology records your purchases and processes the payment. As you walk back to your car, you see a fleet of electric trucks lining up to load groceries for home deliveries.
Welcome to the supermarket of the future.
Along with helping customers find value in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, Woolworths is investing to help future proof customers’ food supply and shopping experience.
In 2020, the supermarket made 40 commitments in its Sustainability Plan 2025, including reaching net positive emissions by 2050, 100 per cent use of renewable energy by 2025 and building all new supermarkets to a 5 Green Star minimum rating.
Head of Sustainability, Catherine Langabeer says the commitments are ambitious, but necessary: “We recognise that we have an important role to play to make a positive impact.”
The company has already made good progress. In 2021 and 2022, Woolworths opened the country’s first Green Star accredited supermarkets in Nelson and South Auckland. Green Star is a rating system for sustainable design and construction of NZ buildings, drawing from international best practice.
The Auckland Fresh Distribution Centre, opened in 2022 with a 4 Green Star rating with features such as rainwater harvesting, electric forklifts, solar panels, and low energy and water use condensers. The solar panels alone will offset around 183 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide each year.
On December 7, Woolworths opened the Waimakariri Junction store in Canterbury, which is targeting a 5 Green Star built rating. Among the many requirements to achieve this, the store has solar panels which will provide up to 10 per cent of its power and 12 EV charging car parks. Woolworths is giving its existing stores a green upgrade too, in a staggered renewal plan which includes installing LED lighting, low-impact refrigeration systems and smart electricity metering to save energy.
Woolworths, with 193 supermarkets in New Zealand, has already nearly halved its own emissions since 2015 and is working on reducing emissions in its supply chain too.
As part of this, it has invested in a regenerative agriculture research project with its grower LeaderBrand, research partner Plant & Food Research, and co-funding from the government. The research is looking at the impact of regenerative farming practices on intensive vegetable production systems. In particular, the project is investigating the impact of compost and cover crops on soil health, and how perennial plantings can contribute to ecosystem restoration.
Another emissions reduction milestone was achieved for the company in November when it announced its ambition to transition its home delivery trucks to 100 per cent electric-powered by 2030 - the first commitment of its kind for a New Zealand supermarket. The move is expected to add about 300 trucks to the country’s electric vehicle fleet over the next seven years.
Woolworths NZ managing director Spencer Sonn says it’s critical businesses like Woolworths take a leadership role in switching to lower emissions vehicles: “The need for a low carbon future has never been clearer, and we know we need to take action today to ensure we’re leaving a better tomorrow for those coming after us.”
Supporting the wellbeing of its 22,000 strong team is another crucial priority for the business, which has already reduced its gender pay gap to 1.41 per cent in 2023, compared to a national gap of 9.2 per cent. All team members and their family have access to Sonder, an App-based service offering free financial, mental, emotional and medical wellbeing support - including when on parental leave.
Woolworths has made progress in its mission to eliminate food waste and boost recycling. The Odd Bunch fruit and vegetable range has helped rescue 41.7 tonnes of food waste since 2020 and the company’s own brand milk is now using recycled rHDPE bottles, saving 114 tonnes of virgin plastic.
But there is more to be done; Langabeer is not afraid of the challenge: “We joined a number of other major retail brands this year to map out the impacts of climate change on retail in New Zealand in the decades to come. A clear signal is that customer expectations will continue to rise in this area.
“We can expect to see even higher performance around the sustainability of materials and products in the future”.
The chain wants to lead the way with its own brand products. “For us, it’s important we are pushing ourselves and taking a leadership position with our own brand products, from sustainably sourced and healthier ingredients on the inside to sustainable packaging on the outside.
“We are also sharing guidance with our trade partners about preferred packaging materials and which ones we would like to avoid.”
Giving customers confidence the products they buy are sustainably made with strong human rights protections and environmental credentials is a non-negotiable goal for Woolworths, Langabeer says.
“We are aware of lots of amazing innovation in this space - for example using blockchain or AI technologies - and are working hard on having that visibility and engagement and addressing risk in the supply chain. We want our customers to be better connected to the story behind the product that they buy.”
For more information visit Countdown.co.nz/info/community-and-environment