Cutting UK Cold Chain emissions by 700K Tonnes per year with AI – Tesco and Star’s blueprint


Anne Flanagan

Business Development Manager - SDA



Food Manufacturing

Temperature Controlled Storage & Distribution

The cold chain network plays a pivotal role in our modern food and pharmaceutical supply and has a significant environmental impact.

In the UK alone, the cold storage industry consumes an estimated 5 TWh of energy annually, with the vast majority (96%) derived from electricity. Refrigeration systems use a significant amount of the energy and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. As countries plan to achieve Net Zero targets and organisations across the industry consider how they can be greener, it could be time to rethink the cold chain.

That has been easier said than done. Until now.

Confronting this pressing environmental challenge requires innovative solutions. Fortunately, advances in data-driven technologies, such as Star Refrigeration’s AI-enabled performance optimisation software, Ethos, offer a powerful solution when moving towards a sustainable future for the cold chain.

In a recent project, Star worked with Tesco to retrofit Ethos across eight distribution centres (DCs). The partnership has achieved remarkable results in terms of cost savings and reducing the environmental footprint of Tesco’s cold chain operation. The methodology used could serve as a blueprint for creating a more sustainable, less energy-intensive cold chain sector in the UK and beyond.

A longstanding commitment to sustainability

Star has been working in collaboration with Tesco for over 30 years, helping the country’s leading supermarket chain to achieve continuous improvements in its energy consumption.

In 2021, the partners implemented the ‘Reaching Net Zero with Cool Data’ project and Ethos was deployed in eight of Tesco’s DCs to reduce energy and carbon emissions.

What makes this highlight notable is that it is not exclusive to Tesco. The same approach can be applied across the entire cold chain industry, with Ethos retrofitted and similar processes embedded within other cold storage and food manufacturing operators to achieve Net Zero goals.

Reaching Net Zero with Cool Data

This project was established to demonstrate the potential of data-driven solutions as an effective way to decarbonise the cold chain industry. A key component of the initiative is the use of the sophisticated AI-powered data analysis platform, Ethos. The system has been specifically designed to optimise industrial refrigeration and heating equipment and takes a 3600 approach to reducing carbon emissions:

  1. Data collection: Ethos collects critical data from sensors, loggers, and network APIs.
  2. Digital Twin technology: the collected data is then compared against a dynamic digital twin and inconsistencies between real-world performance and the ideal model are pinpointed.
  3. Actionable insights: Ethos translates the wealth of data into actionable insights, highlighting potential opportunities for energy and cost savings, as well as CO2 emission reductions.
  4. Data-driven decisions: the insights from Ethos enable informed decision-making, from making minor adjustments to control setpoints to more comprehensive maintenance practices and equipment replacement.

Tangible results and a scalable solution

The success of Tesco and Star’s collaboration is evident, with an impressive average energy saving of 10% across the supermarket sites following the installation of Ethos. Perhaps more crucial is the knowledge that low-cost advanced technologies such as Ethos can be implemented in a similar manner across the cold chain to drive the same notable results across the sector.

The UK’s cold chain sector has around 700 facilities and their cumulative energy consumption is significant. Refrigeration plants are the primary energy consumers in temperature-controlled storage facilities, accounting for approximately 70% of their total energy expenditure. A modest reduction in energy usage of 6% across these facilities would translate into substantial environmental and financial gains saving an estimated 690,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and nearly 210 GWh of energy per year – enough electricity to support approximately 80,000 households in England, Scotland, and Wales for a year.

For cold chain operators, the numbers add up. Retrofitting existing refrigeration systems with technologies like Ethos is a matter of environmental responsibility and a strategic move to reduce energy costs while meeting the increasing demand for cooling services. The return on investment is typically less than 24 months and in many cases, less than a year.

Additionally, integrating AI technologies within cooling operations aligns with broader industry trends towards digitalisation and smart operations and pave the way for maintenance activities informed by data-driven decisions.

Measurable energy savings

Between January 2022 and September 2023, 4 GWh of energy was saved across Tesco’s cold storage estate as a direct result of Ethos. The average energy saving across the eight sites where Ethos was fitted was 10%.

Applying this seemingly small percentage across the sector, demonstrates just how big an impact Ethos technology could have.

Reduced Carbon Footprint

Over the same 21-month period, CO2 emissions at Tesco were slashed by an impressive 835 tonnes. This reduction is equivalent to taking approximately 500 cars off the road for a year.

The significant energy savings and reduced carbon emissions demonstrate how investments in sustainability can reap considerable savings. This project’s success can be replicated to achieve the same results across the entire country’s cold chain.

Universality and long-term vision

Technology like Ethos is remarkably versatile. It seamlessly integrates with existing industrial refrigeration and heating systems, regardless of manufacturer. Ethos is a non-invasive, easy-to-deploy solution that eliminates the need for costly equipment overhauls.

Prioritising sustainability, this type of low-cost technology is an attractive solution for businesses of all sizes. As an example, the rapid return of investment achieved by Tesco, demonstrably under three months, further strengthens the case for Ethos as a financially viable option for a wide range of other businesses.

Collaboration for a sustainable future

The Tesco and Star Refrigeration partnership exemplifies the power of collaboration in driving environmental progress. By combining Tesco’s commitment to sustainability with engineering expertise and the latest technology, this project serves as a model for the entire cold chain industry.

Showcasing the achievements attained through this partnership aims to inspire other businesses to embrace AI technology. Widespread adoption has the potential to significantly reduce the industry’s overall environmental footprint, contributing substantially to national and international decarbonisation goals.

Sharing best practices and learnings can accelerate the development and refinement of data-driven technologies for refrigeration and heating equipment optimisation that will ensure the industry remains at the forefront of sustainable practices and support the sector’s overall goal of meeting Climate Change Agreement targets.

A brighter, cooler future

The cold chain industry is currently at a critical crossroads. Traditional practices can now be supported by innovative solutions to make the decarbonisation of operations a reality.

The Tesco/Star Refrigeration collaboration offers a compelling roadmap for achieving this goal. It outlines the activities needed to progress this model and how Star Refrigeration will collaborate with cold chain operators to achieve targeted energy gains.

Currently, Ethos technology is monitoring 57 cold chain facilities across the UK with a combined power usage of 158,000 MWh. The system has delivered energy savings of 9,461 MWh for cold chain operators and it has prevented the emission of 1,976 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2023 alone.

Star are offering a free demo of Ethos to interested parties. To register, please contact Anne Flanagan at or on 07990146377

The full Tesco /Star Refrigeration case study is available for download at Star Refrigeration’s website  or by accessing the QR code:

Cutting UK Cold Chain emissions by 700K Tonnes per year with AI – Tesco and Star’s blueprint