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Supermarkets and the BRC have announced they will start using a common carbon footprinting model across their supply chains, as a precursor to mandatory government targets.

In what was billed as an historic moment in the industry’s battle versus climate change, the move sees a raft of the leading supermarkets and suppliers commit to a unified standard for product carbon footprinting, under a system led by AI data company Mondra.

It will map the lifetime carbon footprint of products using a system of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs). These will compile data for tens of thousands of products, breaking  down their impact to ingredient level, across all major food and drink sectors.

The BRC and Mondra coalition has signed up TescoM&SOcado  Retail and Asda, as well as a list of major suppliers including Avara, Samworth Brothers, Greencore, Bakkavor and Cranswick.

With food-related activities accounting for 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, tackling the huge disparity in data for Scope 3 emissions from supply chains is seen as the biggest barrier to reaching net zero.

Mondra claimed its artificial intelligence now had the capability to do “within hours” what would have taken many years of data input. It described the coalition as a “breakthrough” moment in the BRC’s 2040 net zero ambition.

However, despite Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Co-op also signing up to the pilot system, it still faces major barriers if it is to become a model backed by the government as the official source of industry Scope 3 emissions, which have been notoriously difficult for the industry to piece together because of the huge disparity in reporting and different systems in use for carbon footprinting, in the UK and globally.

The Grocer revealed in October that plans for the government’s National Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP) to launch mandatory Scope 3 reporting for all major companies faced being delayed until after the next general election. There had been huge debate over what systems should be used and how the industry could come together to back common metrics.

Defra had originally planned to make a major announcement over mandatory reporting during the COP28 conference in Dubai. 

And sources said despite the coalition’s ambitious claims, it did not mean its technology would necessarily be rubber-stamped as the industry new flagship model.

IGD Environment eco label

The scramble to gain government recognition comes amid a similar set of negotiations and wrangling around eco-labelling. The Grocer last week revealed the IGD’s proposed front-of-pack label was facing competition from rival schemes, as well as opposition from environmental campaigners.

Industry sources are prepared for similar opposition to an industry-led scheme for carbon reporting, but stressed that such a system would be impossible without the buy-in and co-operation of major supermarkets and suppliers.

Read more: IGD faces backlash over front-of-pack eco-label plans

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the BRC, said the move was a “significant step forward” towards achieving the industry’s environmental targets.

“By bringing food retailers and suppliers together under a single unified approach to carbon footprinting, the BRC Mondra coalition has the potential to help businesses make more sustainable decisions surrounding how food is made, packaged, transported and sold in the UK and beyond,” he said.

”The retail industry is committed to reaching net zero by 2040 but this will only be possible through meaningful change in Scope 3 emissions, which means being able to measure these emissions and, consequently, finding the most effective ways of reducing them.”

Mondra founder and CEO Jason Barrett said: “Our ambition is to establish the digital infrastructure for future food systems, enabling brand owners and their suppliers to measure and improve the environmental performance of their products – doing so collaboratively through the chain.

“It’s this approach to collaborative decarbonisation, underpinned by a common standard to drive competition, that will accelerate the pace of change to net zero.”

Tesco group quality, technical and sustainability director Claire Lorains, said the company was delighted to be part of a coalition that “brings together the food industry to tackle the challenge of consistent carbon reporting across the value chain”. 

Lucinda Langton, head of sustainability at M&S Food, added: “We’re proud to be part of the BRC Mondra coalition. Working in collaboration with industry-leading organisations and NGO partners allows us to address the single biggest challenge we all face in terms of carbon reduction, which is scope three GHG emissions. It will not only support wider industry change but enhance our progress on our Plan A roadmap to net zero.”

Bakkavor head of group ESG strategy Caroline Carson said: “For a challenge as major as food value chain emissions and environmental impacts, we need the whole industry working together. BRC and Mondra bringing everyone on the same page for best-in-class measurement will significantly improve our understanding of product impacts.”