The Irish and Northern Irish arm of German supermarket chain Lidl has committed to becoming carbon neutral within four years' time.

The multiple has also said it plans to reduce its operational emissions by 46% by 2030, with the remainder offset through programmes.

"I think the topic of climate change and the requirement to reduce our carbon foot print is clear, and what is also clear is that we all have a role to play," said JP Scally, Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland chief executive.

However, Mr Scally acknowledged that carbon neutrality and other steps that the chain is taking to become more sustainable will come at a cost.

"There is a cost associated with everything we have done," he said.

"Ultimately with a 13% market share in the Republic of Ireland we cannot base decisions on cost-benefit analysis alone and there is an onus on us to do the right thing."

However, Mr Scally added that while Lidl is incurring such costs now, other supermarkets groups would have to follow in years to come, and therefore there is no cost disadvantage.

Some of the measures, like installing solar panels on shop and distribution centre roofs, require an upfront capital cost, but yield a long-term return, he added.

"Solar panels are a huge investment, but they also make economic sense," he said.

Aside from the financial and moral imperative, Lidl claims pressure for change is coming from elsewhere, including customers.

"There has been a notable increase in awareness and understanding for sustainability, from sustainable living to responsible business practises and the importance of supporting local," Mr Scally said.

The company, which has 170 stores in the Republic of Ireland and 41 in the north, along with four distribution centres across the island, engaged with the Carbon Trust over a two-year period to measure its carbon footprint, a move that in turn fed into its national carbon reduction strategy.

It has also launched a five-year Supplier Engagement Programme to develop corporation social responsibility and sustainability projects with key suppliers responsible for 70% of product emissions.

The company also intends to add to the 74 electric vehicle charging points at its stores to enable customers lower their carbon footprint.

Today's announcements came as the firm published a progress report on its sustainability strategy.

As part of its drive to reduce plastic waste by 20% by the end of next year, the supermarket has already eliminated all single use plastic items and replaced them with non-plastic alternatives.

It has also removed all plastic microbeads from its own-brand cosmetics and household cleaning products and by the end of this year is committed to eliminating all non-recyclable black plastic.

The company says that by the end of 2025, all of its own-brand packaging will be widely recyclable, reusable, or renewable.

Separately, Mr Scally said that while he does expect the grocery sector to experience a dip in sales as the hospitality industry gets back on track, it is not possible to predict what the contraction will be.

Mr Scally said that compared to 2019 levels, there is still healthy growth in the market here, with Lidl remaining the fastest growing supermarket.

And while he said he does anticipate the dip in spending on groceries to continue, it will even out in the coming months.