factory worker staff production

The study by new sustainability organisation the Future Food Movement warned the sector faced a climate skills crisis without swift action

A climate skills crisis could derail UK food manufacturing’s efforts to reach carbon net-zero targets unless millions of people are urgently upskilled, a new report by the Future Food Movement has revealed.

The organisation, which launched last week, describes itself as a community, industry network and upskilling platform, which was devised by consultancy Veris Strategies and is focussed on driving collaboration between food companies to tackle climate change.

Research for its white paper Tomorrow’s Talent: Skills for a Climate Smart Food System revealed that half of the UK food sector’s workforce wanted training to help them understand climate issues and to make positive climate decisions in their roles.

However, almost two thirds (60%) did not believe their businesses were taking positive action to tackle climate change, while eight in ten (78%) maintained their employer had a responsibility to help them understand how to tackle climate change. 

The paper also claimed big food manufacturers were often seen “as the bad guy” and suggested businesses needed to make “every role a climate role” in order to meet rapid de-carbonisation targets.

Its findings were informed by targeted market research comprised of nationwide surveys of 1,000 British consumers, alongside a poll of more than 1,000 professionals working within the food and drink sector, together with interviews from food company CEOs, climate skills coaches and sustainability consultants.

“The hard truth is that, currently sustainability in the food sector isn’t working,” said Veris Strategies MD and FFM founder Kate Cawley.

“There aren’t enough sustainability experts who can drive science-based change and there’s a lack of confidence from senior leaders on how best to reach climate targets.”

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In a bid to tackle the shortcomings of the food sector on sustainability, FFM will launch a series of “accelerators” next year, where industry leaders on sustainability will share their knowledge.

Cranswick, Moy Park, Arla and Nomad Foods are among the companies to sign up for the first accelerator, which will be held in January 2022.

The businesses will collaborate and focus on four stand-out skills areas that FFM insists, are “key to unlocking climate proficiency within the workforce”. These are climate literacy, application, technology and communication.

As part of a raft of other initiatives, FFM also intends to connect food industry executives in a Business Leader Network which “puts aside competitiveness and opens access to critical friend sessions from the climate smart innovators”. 

“Our aim is to radically empower the industry at all levels to make the changes needed to fight climate change,” Cawley said.

“This isn’t just another technical, science-based upskilling programme tailored to ESG roles. We have collaborated with some of the world’s leading lights on climate issues who will be delivering workshops on topics such as climate language, regenerative agriculture, the future consumer, tech for good and human rights & ethics.”

Chris Aldersley, chief operating officer at Cranswick, said the industry was “under no illusion” how big the challenge to reach carbon net-zero targets was.

“We need to balance business growth with building a climate consciousness which runs through every seam of our business,” he said.

“This isn’t just the job of climate specialists, we need to build a bigger climate knowledge bank which is embedded in all areas of the food chain from procurement to production, finance to food development.

Aldersley described the Future Food Movement as “exciting”.

“It puts food industry leaders in the same room to learn, challenge, collaborate and ultimately unlock our climate potential,” he added. “Additionally, it will climate upskill future food leaders so we future-proof our industry.”

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