How are we going to achieve net zero? This is the toughest question being asked in boardrooms around the world.
It is the same question Chris Skidmore MP attempted to answer in a review of the government’s net zero strategy, in which he made 129 recommendations on the role of business in realising a net zero UK.
Agriculture and land use were among the key areas of his review. They account for 12% of UK emissions, presenting a particular challenge for the food and drink sector. The report recommended that by 2025, half of UK food and beverage businesses should measure and report against a government and industry-agreed standard.
But what does that mean for the food and drink industry, with its complex global supply chains and intricate manufacturing processes that can be difficult to measure and track?
For most organisations, the majority of emissions lie within their supply chains, so having visibility of suppliers is essential. But our research shows only 13% of organisations have mapped their entire supply chain, and between 12% and 22% have no visibility beyond their immediate suppliers.
The importance of understanding supply chain emissions, sometimes known as Scope 3 emissions, was emphasised at COP27 with the UN’s much-anticipated report on greenwashing. It said every corporate sustainability strategy must include data, targets, and plans to address supply chain emissions.
Laying the groundwork for net zero is difficult, particularly in the current economic climate. With grocery prices rising at the fastest rate on record and consumers watching their spending, the temptation is to sacrifice sustainability commitments and focus on costs. Indeed, 14% of CIPS members believe their organisations have already had to choose between value for money and sustainability.
In meeting the challenge of sustainability reporting, we must not allow ourselves to be entirely focused on carbon emissions at the expense of other, equally pressing issues. Responsible water use and the reduction of pollution – plus resource consumption, reducing waste to landfill and recycling – are all critical.
These challenges will require new ways of thinking, new skills and new technologies. For the smallest companies, these aren’t easily available. But this should not be an excuse for inaction. Training in more holistic supply chain sourcing and the importance of sustainability experts will be crucial.
There is also an opportunity for collaboration. Large businesses have a responsibility to collaborate with and support their suppliers, to share the burden of tracking and reducing Scope 3 emissions through best practice in processes, technology and even funding. Demanding data whilst failing to support smaller suppliers will do little to solve our shared problem.
The food and drink industry knows better than most the damage that climate change and extreme weather is having on our ability to produce quality food and sustain profitable businesses. That’s why I believe the sector can lead by example in showing the power of collaboration, shared responsibility, accountability and transparency in tackling climate change – whilst meeting all these challenges head on.