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ALDI, Whole Foods and Target Top EIA’s Climate-Friendly Refrigeration Scorecard, with 13 Other Chains Lagging

Large U.S. food retailers are rated on technology adoption, refrigerant management and policy and commitments.

The Washington, D.C., office of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) on May 6 released its third bi-annual Climate-Friendly Supermarket Scorecard assessing 16 major U.S. supermarket chains on actions to reduce HFCs, it and reported that only three companies – ALDI, Whole Foods Market and Target – received “passing” scores.

The companies were rated on the basis of disclosed and public information on technology adoption, refrigerant management and policy and commitments. ALDI came in first in a composite of the three categories (74%), followed by Whole Foods (55%) and Target (44%). Not all of the 16 retail companies shared refrigeration data with the EIA. The methodology used for the scorecard is explained here.

Under technology adoption, the EIA looks at the extent to which the retailers are using technologies that employ refrigerants with a GWP of less than 10 for new stores and remodels, particularly natural refrigerants like CO2 (R744), hydrocarbons such as propane (R290) and isobutane (R600a), and ammonia (R717).

“Our third scorecard serves as a stark wake-up call: the biggest American supermarkets continue to use and leak easily avoidable super pollutants,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, the EIA’s Climate Campaign Director. “The lack of transparency and sluggish adoption of HFC-free technology by several of these companies receiving failing scores is inexcusable in the face of our climate crisis.”

She added, “We laud the handful of companies, like ALDI, that are leading the charge by transparently and publicly sharing their time-bound action plans on eliminating the use of HFCs.”

The 2024 EIA Scorecard reveals:

  • ALDI is the top scorer overall and in technology adoption with hundreds more HFC-free stores than any competitor; Meijer is the highest scorer in refrigerant management with the lowest leak rate; and Walmart and ALDI are tied for the highest in policy engagement and commitments.
  • Giant Eagle, Meijer, and Southeastern Grocers have yet to install HFC-free refrigeration in a single store, although several stores have partial installations.
  • Eleven of the 16 companies have less than 1% of their stores using entirely ultra-low GWP refrigerants.
  • Walmart has made a major commitment to eliminate all emissions including HFCs by 2040 but has only installed ultra-low GWP refrigerants in a single store and released no specifics on its implementation plans or anticipated milestones.
  • Twelve of the 16 companies have a public commitment to reduce refrigerant emissions; however, only eight have a time-bound goal for reducing HFCs.
  • Emissions from refrigerant leaks among all U.S. supermarkets are estimated to equal 65 billion lbs (29.5 billion kg) of coal burned in a year. Several companies showed progress on efforts to reduce refrigerant leak rates, although only five of the companies disclose an annual average leak rate.

There has been an increase in commitments by companies to tackle refrigerant emissions, but the EIA’s scorecard results indicate a slow adoption of natural refrigerants in stores and limited details about implementation plans to meet company goals.

“EIA urges citizens, investors, and companies to commit to and implement actions toward a complete phase out of [HFCs] globally,” said Beth Porter, Senior Climate Policy Analyst with the EIA. “Long-term commitments need interim targets and public progress to ensure the ultimate goal to curb these emissions is achieved on time.”

The EIA said it calls on these companies to develop detailed strategies with interim targets to phase out HFC refrigerants from all stores, immediately commit to using HFC-free technology in new stores and develop no-tolerance policies for leaks to ensure rapid repair to curb emissions.

The leaders

ALDI continues to be the market leader, scoring the highest overall due to its “substantial” adoption of CO2-based refrigeration. “This year, the company committed to using natural refrigerants in all new and existing stores by 2035, the first U.S. company in the sector to set this target,” said the EIA. To date it uses natural refrigeration systems at 30% of stores (more than 600 outlets), in all standalone equipment and in all distribution centers. ALDI is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) GreenChill partner, with 707 Platinum store certifications. It reports a 20% leak rate on fluorinated refrigerant systems. “ALDI could improve its score by reducing leaks and setting a leak reduction goal,” said the EIA.

Whole Foods has committed that, as of 2025, all new stores “will be built with ultra-low GWP, natural refrigerant systems,” said the EIA, adding that between 4–7% of its existing stores use entirely ultra-low GWP refrigerants, and another 4–7% utilize some level of ultra-low GWP refrigerants in combination with HFCs. Over 50% of its stand-alone equipment uses ultra-low GWP (R290). Whole Foods is an EPA GreenChill partner, but does not publicly disclose its annual average refrigerant leak rate. “Publicly sharing its refrigerant leak rate and setting a time-bound commitment to phase out HFCs from all stores would further improve Whole Foods’ score,” said the EIA.

Target uses entirely ultra-low GWP refrigerants (typically CO2) in 1.6% of its stores (approximately 31). The company stated it will scale CO2 chain-wide by 2040. As of 2021, Target reports using “HFC-free refrigerants” in 57% of its standalone cases (R290) and all food distribution centers. Target is an EPA GreenChill partner and has a 13.7% average leak rate. “Target’s score can be improved if it sets a refrigerant leak reduction target and accelerates the introduction of ultra-low GWP systems in all new builds and store remodels,” said the EIA.

In its Natural Refrigerants: State of the Industry 2023 report, ATMOsphere, publisher of NaturalRefrigerants.com, reported that 2,930 food stores in North America use transcritical CO2 systems – 1,850 in the U.S. and 1,080 in Canada. That represents 4.09% of all food retail stores (excluding convenience stores). By contrast, in Europe, the report said, 68,500 stores (including convenience stores) employ transcritical CO2 systems, a market penetration of 22.9%.

The U.S. AIM Act, which includes GWP limits of 150 for supermarket applications that will take effect over the next several years for new installations, is expected to drive further adoption of natural refrigerants by U.S. food retailers.

“Our third scorecard serves as a stark wake-up call: the biggest American supermarkets continue to use and leak easily avoidable super pollutants.”

Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Director, EIA

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