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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Sustainability in the Food Retail Industry

Tomas Steinacker

Sustainability in the Food Retail Industry


Food retail is one of the biggest industries worldwide and it is a key player in modern life and consumption society. According to World Bank figures the food industry accounts for around 10% of global GDP and a big amount of it corresponds to food retailing that has a major influence in whole food value chain. Over the last decades the industry has become consolidated with large chain supermarkets and global players that have participation in many markets. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate the sustainability issues and impacts of this industry, identifying industry leaders, best practices and drivers for sustainability. By identifying those things this work aims to be useful for consumers, responsible investors and the industry itself.  A 12 indicator model, addressing environmental, socioeconomic and supply chain issues, was successfully applied in 18 companies from the sector (25% of sector’s revenues). The results of the assessment revealed that the industry’s overall sustainability performance is fairly weak. In average the industry performs very far from the ideal or best practice. Nevertheless there are several steps that the industry can take in the short term to improve its performance. This wouldn’t require “reinventing the wheel”, because some companies are way ahead in certain aspects. Best performers resulted to be Metro AG, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, while sustainability laggards Delhaize, Bompreço and D&S, revealing a clear difference of performance associated with the company’s origin. On the other hand according to the results of the model global companies tend to be more sustainable than their local counterparts, showing that the globalization trend of the industry is actually positive in terms of sustainability. In the model definition stage transparency, monetary incentives and corporate structure were identified as sustainability drivers; unfortunately the research couldn’t find statistical evidence to support this hypothesis.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.