argiculture farm farming polution carbon sustainability emissions

The importance of carbon reduction is something, as a supplier to the grocery retail industry, we are acutely aware of. However, the task of setting carbon reduction targets requires knowledge on how to calculate emissions. The complexity of the process, coupled with companies’ focus on profit, is a major reason why many businesses put carbon reduction targets and reporting on the backburner. Smaller businesses may lack the expertise and larger businesses may get lost in the labyrinth.

But it’s a job that needs doing. Making targets compulsory would force a change to internal priorities and inject impetus. Business leaders will have to take steps to educate themselves and their staff, which is the first step of overcoming the complexity.

This is vital, as the impacts of climate change we can already see for ourselves are the tip of the iceberg. Droughts, wildfires and floods will have major impacts on our crops and future food supplies. It will be impossible to align with the 1.5°C temperature increase boundary, or anywhere near it, if businesses do not account for their emissions and reduce them.

But making targets compulsory can only be part of the solution.

Carbon reduction targets that align with net zero and keep temperature increase within the 1.5°C boundary are essential. Currently the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) sets reduction targets at a minimum of 4.2% per annum. One size cannot fit all, so it has to be left to companies to create targets that are understandable and workable in their own contexts. These targets should be accompanied by a narrative to explain the reasoning and should be adopted at the highest level.

This leaves the question of how to know if the targets of a particular company are challenging enough, or if they are being genuinely pursued. The food industry has developed a comprehensive system of monitoring food safety, re-enforced by statutory obligations of due diligence. This would take too long to develop and consume too many resources.

A better example would be from the ‘good faith receiving’ practice of warehouses. This allows warehouses to quickly check goods in from suppliers ‘in good faith’ but allows them to also carry out intermittent audits. Enforcement is based on the extrapolated findings of these audits. This approach can be adapted so that suppliers of goods and services are held to account on environmental targets by their customers. This provides enforcement and incentive, while using less of scarce people resources.

Ultimately, in our own industry, supply decisions and enforcement will be highly dependent on our major retailers, who must choose products based on quality and environmental standards as well as cost. Businesses of all sizes must be expected to put in the effort to understand a situation that is complex. At the same time, government and others must simplify and explain better than they have so far managed. Two particular areas are education and data availability.

These areas can be helped by the development and encouragement of a central body that would offer clear and authoritative information. Such a body might bring together people from business, consulting and academia. It might create elementary workstreams of best practice for different industry sectors. Clear training would rapidly expand the number of people who understand the key concepts. This would lift the lid of complexity and facilitate positive change within businesses.

I believe making carbon reduction targets should be part of the solution. But suppliers large and small need additional support from government, and even the establishment of a dedicated industry body, to demystify the process and make it relevant to suppliers.