planet over profits climate change sustainability

PwC has released its 2022 Annual Corporate Directors Survey, and it’s fair to say the findings make for bleak reading. All industries are facing into a host of global challenges right now, and yet focus on climate and sustainability – something that can buffer these issues – appears to be woefully low on the agenda for leaders.

We’re relying on them to guide us out of climate chaos, but only 11% believe environment and sustainability expertise is ‘very important’ for their board.

There are no silver bullet solutions here: we have to do the work. This starts with ensuring everyone – from board level to the shop floor – is on the same page. However, it is boards that have the most influence in driving this.

Therefore, along with the Future Food Movement, I’m calling for all board members of British food and drink companies to have mandatory, formal climate competency training, upskilling them so that they are equipped to tackle the obstacles on the road to net zero.

As the PwC report demonstrates, this training is clearly needed, and the need is urgent. The World Meteorological Organisation has just warned greenhouse gas concentrations climbed at above-average rates to new records last year, highlighting time is running out for people to make the transformational changes needed to cap global temperature rises.

We are simply not moving fast enough.

It’s no secret that the food industry is up against it. We’re responsible for a third of all emissions, but as the cost of living bites, food and drink companies must find a way to balance affordability concerns with climate priorities. Many businesses are struggling in the face of rising inflation to find an equilibrium where both cost and climate considerations work in harmony with, not against, each other.

But we can’t bury our heads in the sand. Sustainability needs to be a priority if businesses are to meet the growing demands of stakeholders, build resilience to risks and create a future-fit food system that works for everyone.

Tackling these issues head-on requires no less than a skills revolution. Indeed, our own research at Future Food Movement reveals more than half of respondents point to professional development strategies as the best way forward to help organisations effectively price net zero into their business model at little or no cost to the consumer.

More than four million people work in the agri-food sector in the UK, making up 13.4% of British employment. This means we have a real opportunity to drive change. This action needs to come from the top – from board level. Company directors are at the helm of the ship and without a clear focus on the importance of sustainability and ESG, they are simply sailing into a storm.

The companies that make ESG a priority will thrive in the future. To the others, I simply ask: How can we have food industry leaders delivering a net zero transformation if they don’t understand net zero? Or, as these new findings demonstrate, if they don’t even consider sustainability a priority?

As UN secretary general António Guterres recently said ahead of COP27: “There has been a tendency to put climate change on the back burner. If we are not able to reverse the present trend, we will be doomed.”

Incremental change is no longer enough. Bolder policy and leadership is urgently required. Our collective future depends on it.