The challenges and opportunities of net-zero in food production

Ensuring that your organisation has a progressive sustainability strategy in place and is making quantifiable progress towards net-zero targets is becoming increasingly crucial. New sustainability initiatives are being used to secure an advantage over competitors, as the industry moves on from easy wins that are no longer sufficient in meeting many companies and countries 2050 net-zero target.

The UK Committee on Climate Change proposed the net-zero ambition in it’s May 2019 report Net Zero the UK’s contribution to stopping global warming. The UK food and drink manufacturing sector has already made collective progress towards cutting carbon emissions in order to meet this target. One year after the report, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and SLR  consulting have published Decarbonisation of heat across the Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector which addresses the alarming fact that the food industry cannot meet the net-zero goal without Government support.

What is net-zero and can you achieve it?

Net-zero is a term used to describe the state of an entity (this could be a company, service, product or event), where the carbon emissions caused by them have been reduced as far as practicable and any remaining emissions balanced out, typically by funding projects delivering an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world. Examples of carbon offset projects include tree planting, distributing efficient cooking stoves in developing countries and capturing methane gas at landfill sites.

A collective global effort has been made over the past 10 years to make the cost of producing green energy no higher than that of fossil fuel-based systems. As a result, countries can now build zero-carbon electricity systems that will be crucial in achieving net-zero emissions. China’s recent announcement that they aim to achieve net-zero by 2060, was seen as an important commitment to this effort and a surprise to many.

Kevin Ramm, Sustainability Lead at Muddy Boots explains ‘Many organisations have made public commitments to achieving net-zero status. For the food sector those organisations at the consumer end of the value chain – retailers, brands and restaurants, will be expected to include their full supply chain impact (Scope 3) in their GHG reduction programs. For these companies supply chain collaboration will be essential, with the supply chain partners needing to work together to drive down emissions and seek out opportunities for planning efficiencies, waste reduction and better data sharing. 

We are starting to work with companies to support them in the first step of their journey to net-zero. Measuring the potential impact of various initiatives and what influence that might have on mitigating their current greenhouse gas emissions. We wish to help build better understanding of the real emissions happening in the supply chain, ultimately quantifying them and their impact, in turn allowing businesses to identify opportunities for reduction.’  

An in-depth study of the progress in the food and drink manufacturing sector towards net-zero, by edie, stated that while many manufacturers had already secured efficiency ‘easy wins’ and may be using on-site energy generation, it is unlikely to be enough to meet current targets.

What are scope emissions?

Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three groups or 'scopes' by the most widely-used international accounting tool, the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. Many companies will talk about scope 1 and 2 emissions and have these detailed in their initiatives to customers. However, in an age where consumers want companies to take a leading role in combating climate change, understanding where opportunities lie to address scope 3 emissions is key.

Scope 1 – Direct emissions from owned or controlled sources of an organisation or under their control. Including fuel combustion on site such as gas boilers, fleet vehicles and air-conditioning leaks. 

Scope 2 – Indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company.

Scope 3 – All other indirect emissions from activities of the company’s value chain, occurring from sources that they do not own or control. These are usually the greatest share of the carbon footprint, covering emissions associated with transport, procured supplies, waste and water.

Opportunities for net-zero emissions

Infrastructural changes, switching to a green electricity provider and refurbishing buildings are all great first steps to achieving net-zero emissions. However, companies that really start to stand out and set themselves apart from greenwashers are those that get to the heart of who they are and what they do, reflecting this in their programme. Questions to ask in achieving this include ‘does your commitments to net-zero make you sustainable for the future’ and ‘are you the type of company that people want around in the future.’

It’s clear that the challenge of net-zero is immense and a priority for the food and farming sector, the pathway for every business to achieve net-zero is different, but invariably will involve embracing innovation. We are very excited to be supporting businesses with sustainability capabilities in our solution sets, to help strengthen how companies work with their suppliers and understand carbon emissions within their supply chain.  

Sources - Carbon Footprint Ltd, Carbon Trust, Committee on Climate Change, edie, fdf Food and Drink Federation, Financial times; China’s net-zero target is a giant step in fight against climate change, Unilever; Sustainable Living Plan

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