“Just a matter of perseverance” - Interview with Aina Calafat Rogers from the Spanish RefNat4LIFE project partner, the Society for Organic Farming & Agroecology

In this series, RefNat4LIFE project partners give insight into their motivation to engage in sustainable RACHP. This time, we have talked to Aina Calafat Rogers from the Spanish RefNat4LIFE project partner, the Society for Organic Farming & Agroecology (Sociedad Española de Agro-ecología)

Claudia Becker (HEAT GmbH): Aina, what are the main challenges for the small organic food retail sector with regard to sustainable cooling? What are specific challenges in Spain?

Aina (SEAE): The small organic food retail sector in Spain was pioneer raising awareness among consumers on the need for a more sustainable agrifood system and on how transitioning to fair and healthy diets based on organic food could improve their own quality of life and, also, help protect the environment and the climate. They have a high sensibility for everything related to sustainability, climate change and health, so when they learn about an issue that has a direct impact on any of these matters, they are usually willing to collaborate and improve their contribution for a healthier world.

The main challenge in Spain is to raise a public debate on the impact of the current cooling systems and make sure that the information of the existence of more efficient and sustainable cooling systems based on natural refrigerants and how to access them, The RefNat4LIFE project has started both processes and has reached many stakeholders that are now aware. Anyhow, many of the small food retail companies have been struggling to survive for the last years, due to the pressure of the expansion of big commercial chains and large distribution companies and for the extra effort required by the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, it will take a bit longer for them to get actively involved in transition.

Claudia:  How can service companies support small store owners to switch to sustainable cooling?

Aina: Service companies have a very important role in this matter as they are the ones that can offer this kind of services to food retailers and to the food industry sector in general. We, as SEAE, can help raising awareness, informing about the impact of the current cooling systems based on fluorinated gases and on the F-Gas Regulation. But RACHP servicing companies have to be willing to provide this kind of services in and accessible to small retailers as well as big companies. The RefNat4LIFE project provides specific trainings for food retailers and several articles on this issue have been published in sectoral magazines, so retailers see the benefit of the transition. But retailers need to know where they can find this kind of equipment and services in their region, so we need RACHP service companies to collaborate more closely and to register themselves in a database.

Claudia: Are there policies to support the switch to climate friendly cooling in Spain?

Aina: The Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge has included a specific measure in the Integrated National Plan for Energy and Climate (PNIEC)[i]. The Measure 1.23 “Reduction of GHG emissions related to fluorinated gases”, has a specific sub-measure for the replacement of equipment that use fluorinated gases with a high GWP by other facilities using low or no GWP gases, although it also includes as an option the use of low GWP fluorinated gases.

In 2018, a call for subsidies for the replacement of food cooling equipment in retailer’s stores, was launched, but it was barely advertised and the period to apply for them was very brief, so hardly any retailers were aware of this opportunity. Hopefully, these subsidies will be relaunched soon.

Claudia:  Why has SEAE become a partner in the RefNat4LIFE project?

Aina: The organic sector has always been ahead of the improvement of the food sector and trying to make it more sustainable. Starting from the farming methods used and through all the food chain until food gets to final consumer. Cooling has a very important role in the food chain, as for refrigerating the food or for the air conditioning or heat pumps in stores. SEAE wanted to accompany the Spanish organic sector in the transition towards more sustainable cooling systems and take jointly a step forward in coherence in the whole of the food system.

Claudia: Now, that the project is already in its final year, what are the main learnings or profits for you and your members in Spain?

Aina: SEAE’s team, as well as all our members, have started a big step towards going beyond the organic regulation. Some of us knew about the problems caused by the use of fluorinated gases in cooling systems, but we were not capable of suggesting real alternatives. Now almost the whole of the Spanish organic sector has had access to the information and when stores are interested in revising and improving it’s cooling system, we know how to help them. Also, we can now have high level communication with the administrations and try to influence national and local policies. It’s going to be a mid-term process, but now we have the network and knowledge and it’s just a matter of perseverance.

[i] https://www.boe.es/diario_boe/txt.php?id=BOE-A-2021-5106