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The importance of achieving net zero is undisputed. While the goal is universal, each industry faces different challenges on the road. The food retail industry is fighting on multiple fronts: lowering energy consumption, replacing high GWP refrigerants, and preventing food waste. With so many different areas to focus on, how can food retailers achieve net zero? Tim Thain, Account Manager at RDM, suggests a data-driven approach.

Minimising our impact on the planet is a key founding principle of RDM. Our solutions are designed to help our customers save energy and valuable resources. To illustrate what that looks like in practice, we’ve spoken to Tim Thain, Account Manager within the retail sector, and asked if he could discuss current challenges and practical solutions for the food retail industry.

Net zero transcends industries and requires a collaborative approach

“Net zero is a major concern for all of us, and transcends all industries,” Tim Thain highlights. “The decarbonisation of all sectors in our economy will require a collaborative approach. Food retailers often have a large property portfolio. One of their biggest challenges is how to determine the best way of decarbonising their whole estate to meet net zero targets, focusing on both operational energy (OE) and embodied carbon.”

Data driven solutions facilitate decarbonisation

A data-driven approach helps retailers to meet decarbonisation commitments and to understand how a system or building is performing. Without data, it’s impossible to determine upfront embodied carbon, fugitive emissions, or operational energy emissions.

“Data-driven energy management solutions have helped many of our customers reduce their energy consumption,” Tim Thain explains. “For example, energy management software kWheb™ captures energy data across estates, allowing users to gauge consumption, compare asset performance, and identify any issues quickly to take corrective action and prevent wasted resources.

“Data can be used to measure the effectiveness of sustainability plans, helping users to assess if they’re going in the right direction or meeting targets.”

Once armed with accurate and up-to-date information, businesses can then build a plan to implement the most effective interventions to further reduce carbon emissions.

“This could involve retrofits, refits, or simply implementing energy-saving features of HVAC and refrigeration control and monitoring devices.”

Adopting a flexible approach to increase energy savings

“Flexibility is important. Retail estates in particular can have a variety of systems and building fabrics. This means that being able to choose different routes within a roadmap will help businesses take a flexible and proactive approach to achieving net zero.”

Open protocol systems provide businesses with the flexibility to implement changes that will fit their sustainability plans, especially when that plan involves retrofits. Open protocol solutions can integrate with existing third-party, proprietary control systems. Third-party integration allows businesses to replace devices only as needed, saving valuable resources, and to create control infrastructures with those devices that fit their strategy best.

System integration part of net zero strategy

“We are finding that some of our customers are integrating the different mechanical systems within their estate such as the refrigeration and mechanical systems, using heat reclaim,” Tim Thain highlights. “The accurate control and monitoring of these systems, to ensure that they are operating at optimum conditions, is a cornerstone of these initiatives. PLC software is ideal to ensure the integrated system is performing correctly.”

Taking an integrated approach, one retailer used RDM’s HVACR controllers – Intuitive Stepper and Intuitive TDB – to control the refrigeration pack and hot water heat reclaim system. This method can benefit retailers by achieving greater control of their assets, and improved visibility. But, crucially, reusing excess heat energy for other purposes, such as providing hot water or space heating, will help reduce emissions and wasted energy.

In this example, the retailer integrated the systems further, using Intuitive TDB controllers for exhaust hood and lighting control, power monitoring, and leak detection.

As well as system integration, net zero energy saving initiatives can also be carried out using various RDM energy saving solutions, such as floating suction and head pressure control, night set-backs, optimisation, door heater control.

Future considerations for the food retail industry

In addition to the steps food retailers can take individually to work towards net zero, the industry as a whole can make changes that will have an impact on climate change.

“We must embrace the role that our generation plays in safeguarding the planet for future generations. Retailers will need to make the correct interventions for their stores, and having accurate and up to date data can be used effectively to make those decisions. Food retail customers can then implement the strategies that they need to achieve their net zero targets.

“It is also important to highlight that net zero is only part of the plan. Promoting and implementing the circular economy, as well as eliminating food waste, are another two important concepts that need to be implemented alongside net zero.”

We also need to consider the following:

  • Making the correct interventions for capital expenditure and maintenance activities
  • Actively regenerating the areas that we live in, by reducing the usage of raw materials
  • Challenging the current ways of using materials /products, and food
  • Minimising the volume of refrigerants
  • Continuing to reduce whole life carbon (WLC)
  • Raising the importance of data and how it can be used effectively to make decisions
  • Circulating products and materials
  • Using low GWP refrigerants
  • Continuing to reduce emissions
  • Eliminating food waste
  • Reducing refrigerant leakage rates


Achieving net zero becomes more important every day if we are to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. While the food retail industry faces a lot of challenges on the road, it also has many opportunities to make an impact. Whichever issues are integrated into a sustainability plan, a data-driven approach will help identify problems, monitor progress, and inspire more changes that will help businesses achieve net zero.

ENERGY Refrigeration | Posted on 26 Aug 2022


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