Fast Company

Sustainability: Sainsbury's Serious About Saving Energy… And Engaging its Shoppers

It's been a fashion statement for a few seasons now. Being Green is In. If you're a corporate entity trying to be socially responsible, there's no hotter way than endeavoring to save the earth.

Ever heard the expression if you're going to get wet you might as well go swimming? This weekend, Britain's 3rd largest supermarket chain will make a splashy show of corporate social responsibility by giving away 1 million green friendly light bulbs to its customers, in exchange for an energy saving pledge to help the environment.

The journalist in me is inherently suspicious of such moves on the part of large corporations; I tend to label them as attention seeking gambles in an effort to attract positive media attention. But in this particular case I really do think Sainsbury's deserves some kudos for its initiative (here at Fast Company, we have a previously established familiarity for the connection between light bulbs and saving the world.)

Timed to coincide with the turning back of clocks across the country, on October 27th, Sainsbury's is offering free Philips 11 watt bulbs (equivalent to 60w incandescent light bulbs) to encourage customers and colleagues to switch to greener alternatives during darker months.

In order to claim a bulb, customers need to pledge to replace a light bulb with an energy saving light bulb, take re-usable bags for shopping rather than use disposable bags, unplug the phone charger when it’s not being used, keep the fridge and freezer running efficiently, switch to taking more showers than baths, try drying clothes outdoors or hang them up inside, rather than using the tumble dryer.

Along with its light bulb giveaway, Sainsbury's will also reduce the energy it uses in stores for the weekend by 45 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of enough electricity to power 22 households for a whole year.

A cursory glance at Sainsbury's list of accolades in recognition of its environmentally friendly efforts reveals that the supermarket giant has certainly made an effort to turn green in recent years. It was most recently awarded the Greenest Supermarket award at the ‘Independent Greenest Companies’ awards.

Tesco and Asda, Britain's first and second largest supermarket chains respectively, have also made several environmentally friendly initiatives. Tesco was recently awarded a "green Oscar" for its fleet of zero-emission electric vans. It also offers things like a bag free home delivery service for customers concerned by the number of plastic bags used, and a system of Green Clubcard points to encourage fewer carrier bags.

Asda, which is part of the Wal-Mart family, has also made several efforts to be environmentally friendly. Earlier this year, the chain asked customers to help it reduce waste by identifying over-packaged goods. It also implemented a bag-free check out trial by which shoppers were encouraged either not to use a bag at all or to bring their own bags into stores. Shoppers who did not take a new bag when shopping were rewarded with ‘green goodies for schools’ vouchers.

Many of the projects implemented by supermarket chains like Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda aim not just to control the environmental ramifications of their own processes, but also to change the everyday behavioral patterns of their shoppers – the light bulb initiative being a case in point.

Sainsbury's in particular seems to have taken its customer engagement efforts one step further – beyond the realm of corporate social responsibility-- with a prominent section of its site dedicated to encouraging customer interaction and eliciting dialogue.

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It has established an online social network by which customers can choose communities depending on their interests, ask questions, post to discussions and vote on different topics. For a supermarket chain, the community is quite developed – I was impressed. While on the site, I was informed about the newest members who had joined, I learned about what sort of alternatives to crisps (aka chips) one could give one's children, and I even read a few paragraphs of advice offered to a parent who was worried about her son turning vegetarian.

Between Sainsbury's giving away one million free light bulbs on the one hand and creating an online social network that encourages customers to interact (with themselves as well as Sainsbury's) on the other, the UK supermarket giant is making some smart moves, and attracting a well deserved bout of attention in the process.

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