This week, our local MP, who also happens to be the prime minister, will be talking to the Conservative Party conference ahead of a general election next year. While we have heard many statements about the journey to net zero during the last few weeks, alongside the dialling down of certain commitments, nowhere has government talked about the importance the food industry plays in this journey.
And it’s something we should be talking about. Thirty per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the food sector. We also know small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been responsible for around 70% of the world’s pollution, and nearly 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These figures may seem negative, but they also highlight an opportunity. We believe small food and drink companies such as Heck can play a significant role in the food industry’s journey to net zero.
We have been working with the University of York Sustainable Business department for the past 18 months, to identify the key pathway to our own journey. The work gave us eight recommendations for Heck, including investment in renewable energy as well as continuing with plastic reduction and working with innovative companies in its supply chain. This has helped us develop a long-term strategy that acknowledges the role of food and drink in preventing the worst effects of climate change, and helps us adapt to the reality that climate change will produce in the near future.
This isn’t just the right thing to do. According to NatWest, meeting net zero targets could boost the Yorkshire and north east economy by up to £33bn between now and 2030. There is an opportunity to “level up” through collective environmental efficiency.
But there are some massive areas where the government needs to step up and support businesses. Take infrastructure. Food companies are investing in energy efficiencies such as solar or anaerobic digestors, but we are hampered in what we can do with that technology. For instance, many electricity companies can’t take back the additional energy generated because of network issues, and we can’t develop truly compostable packaging until there are facilities in place to properly recycling more environmentally-friendly packaging. So there is a total mismatch between ambitions and reality.
As we go down the chain to the consumer, there need to be more robust guidelines in terms of what brands can claim or not. For instance, there is still a huge amount of “greenwashing” around offsetting such as planting trees, or making different claims about working to Scope 1, 2 or 3 emissions. We need consumers to be confident they understand these key parts of the net zero journey, and to be able to highlight where these claims are not valid or meaningful.
There are a number of areas we need to look at as an industry to create credible reasons for customers to buy into sustainability. As farmers and producers, our message to the PM is: the time to act is now.
Stop dialling back on commitments and promises when the food industry is investing huge amounts of time, energy and financial commitment. If small companies like Heck can make this difference, imagine what our industry can achieve together with positive government support.