Guest article

One bite at a time: tackling carbon neutrality

By Mark Chadwick, CEO

- Last updated on GMT

EcoAct's tips on how to go carbon neutral ©Petmal/iStock
EcoAct's tips on how to go carbon neutral ©Petmal/iStock
Carbon neutrality is an imperative global goal to halt global warming. But it can also have a significant benefit on a company’s performance, writes Mark Chadwick, CEO of international climate change and sustainability consultancy EcoAct.

The risks of climate change now need little introduction. We are already starting to live with the impacts of a changing climate on communities, businesses and supply chains. Within the food and beverage industry climate change is already impacting food production, water scarcity and extreme weather events, all which pose huge risks to businesses and future food security.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in October last year delivered the unnerving news that we have less than a 12-year window to act on climate and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It made plain that limiting warming to 2°C will not be enough to prevent the most serious impacts. In order to achieve this goal, we need to reach global net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

And now there is a more public face to the voice for change. Protests by Extinction Rebellion and school children around the globe have been recently dominating headlines, meaning climate change has suddenly pushed its way to the forefront of public consciousness with pressure for action on carbon neutrality rising with it.

The UK food supply chain from production to consumption accounts for about 20% of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This makes it vulnerable to increased demands for climate action particularly in a sector susceptible to changing consumer demands and exposed to NGO pressure. Understanding this, the sector as a whole has already been proactive in emissions reduction efforts. The Food and Drink (FDF) has pledged a 55% reduction in emissions by 2025 as part of its Ambition 2025 initiative and has reported impressive progress on targets so far.

What’s in it for us?

The calls for carbon neutrality might appear highly ambitious and even a little doom-mongering at times, but they also present significant opportunities to the food and beverage industry – from meeting increasing consumer preference for low carbon products; costs saved through energy reduction programs; greater innovation to achieve competitive advantage; enhancement of brand reputation; better preparedness for future legislation and the building of more financially- and climate-resilient supply chains.

Many stakeholders now want to see that companies have properly accounted for climate change. Consumers are increasingly opting for more environmentally friendly brands, with employees wanting to work for more responsible companies and the investor community making plain their commitment to withdrawing shareholder backing if climate is not adequately addressed. Tackling climate should now be seen as an opportunity to keep stakeholders happy, secure business and safeguard long-term investment.

For any business, ambitious reduction targets – particularly carbon neutrality - is a significant commitment, not least in an industry dependent on complex supply chains and trying to maintain competitiveness in a crowded market. However, it is not insurmountable when undertaken as a journey, and one that can be broken down into achievable stages.

Pathway to carbon neutrality

Before beginning your carbon neutrality journey, gathering reliable data and putting in place systems for collection and monitoring will be vital. This is the only way to have a true understanding of your impact - both positive and negative. This can be a challenge in an industry where the majority of emissions often occur within the wider supply chain. However, isolating emissions within your control (Scope 1 and 2 emissions) should be attainable, followed by prioritising emissions hotspots and then engaging with suppliers to tackle your whole value chain (Scope 3).

Mark Chadwick, CEO EcoAct

Obtaining good data and calculating a footprint using internationally recognised methods will help you comply with both existing and future GHG reporting requirements. It will also give you confidence and credibility in your external reporting.

Target setting best practice now expects science-based targets (SBT), which are specifically aligned to limiting warming to the recommended levels of 1.5°C or well below 2°C. There are already 45 companies from the food and beverage processing industry that have set SBTs ​. While ambitious, these targets will provide clear goals for reducing emissions in line with the trajectories needed to adequately limit warming.

SBTs are particularly challenging when your suppliers are far removed from your own operations in geography and climate ambition, but you can start by identifying the largest emissions areas and those where there exists the most ability to influence. It then requires engagement with both staff and suppliers to implement procurement criteria and collaborate to find solutions. Working with suppliers to improve their own credentials on emissions can be a mutually beneficial exercise in terms of reputation, innovation and climate resilience.

Improving energy efficiency within your operations will play a significant part and this comes with the potential for substantial financial savings. With the continued rise in Climate Change Levy rates, such savings could also avoid growing taxation costs. Steps to reducing energy intensity can include incentivised energy efficiency measures for employees, replacing inefficient technology such as older refrigerator models and installing better energy management systems. Added benefits will include easier compliance with current legislation such as the Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme (ESOS) and the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting Regulations (SECR).

Renewable energy also plays an important role in a carbon neutral commitment and with cost reductions over the past few years, renewables are now financially viable competitors to fossil fuels. EcoAct research shows 75% of FTSE 100 companies now use renewable energy​. Investing in onsite renewable energy or purchasing it via assured certificates allows companies to confidently report that the energy used is zero carbon.

As we don’t yet inhabit a zero-carbon economy, achieving carbon neutrality solely through operational changes can be a tall order. Companies are increasingly realising that high-quality, verified offset projects can play an important role in tackling remaining emissions across their value chain. The additional opportunity here is that you select projects which mean most to you and your stakeholders. Verified high quality credits come from a variety of social impact projects, usually in developing countries, which have a real and important effect on peoples’ lives and the environment. Such projects can focus on health, economic empowerment, prevention of deforestation, renewable infrastructure and biodiversity protection. Projects such as these are aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and, therefore, enable an organisation to demonstrate their commitment to these global objectives which can be included in their sustainability reports.

Some companies who rely on the sustainability of their food producers might consider the setting up of their own supply chain projects to sequester carbon or reduce emissions. Referred to as “insetting”, it can be reflected on the carbon balance sheet and also have the added bonus, if implemented correctly, of safeguarding sustainability of produce and producer livelihoods.

Case study: Innocent Drinks

Innocent Smoothies
Innocent working towards zero emissions with EcoAct support

Innocent Drinks have always had strong environmental values and big ambitions when it comes to sustainability, but like many within their sector they face the challenges of being a fast-growing company with an extensive value chain that includes agriculture, packaging, transportation and manufacturing.

They approached EcoAct for help with improving the quality of their data calculation methodology, calculating their Scope 3 emissions, devising a more simplified methodology for estimating emissions from fruit, and engaging relevant people in the supply chain team. All this was to provide the basis for climate change targets and to highlight the most important areas to work on to reduce emissions.

EcoAct worked closely with innocent to calculate their supply chain carbon footprint from actual data, where available, and to develop estimation methodologies where it wasn’t. To calculate emissions from fruit, mini Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) were developed for the top 5 purchased fruits. From this, it was possible to extrapolate in order to estimate emissions for all fruits purchased.

From this footprint, emission hotspots were identified in order to focus attention for target setting and emissions reductions. Each of the hotspot areas were assessed according to two criteria: the ability to be influenced and how material they are for the business. This enabled EcoAct to prioritise the emission hotspots we would focus on.

It is important for any target that contextual and market changes, such as new environmental initiatives and the effects of the grid and transport greening, are taken into account. For this, a bespoke feasibility tool (CRaFT) was developed which enables innocent to visualise these impacts against their new targets and help them make decisions on what actions to take.

With targets set, it was time to tackle the emissions. innocent recognised the importance of a strong supplier engagement strategy as key to achieving reductions and hitting their target. An EcoAct consultant worked alongside innocent at their London headquarters to develop a strategy for collecting data and engaging the supply chain teams who managed the relationships with suppliers. As a result of this close partnership, the teams felt part of the process and were supported in making their specific commitments for reducing emissions within their area of the supply chain.

"EcoAct have been instrumental in helping us work out what our climate change target should be as well as the best way to go about achieving the target. They offer a great balance between providing the cold-hard technical insight required alongside a fun, friendly and engaging way of doing things. "- Simon Reid, Sustainability Manager, Innocent.

Innocent have committed to carbon neutrality for their Scope 1 and 2 emissions and with their latest footprint are in the process of selecting offsetting projects that best align with their values to offset their residual emissions and get these emissions Scopes to net zero. innocent is committed to their ongoing journey towards further emission reductions across all Scopes.

Turning challenge into opportunity

Carbon neutrality is a significant goal and demands commitment. However, when tackled in more bite-sized chunks and approached as a journey, it becomes a manageable challenge, particularly when commercial benefits are uncovered along the way.

The role of the food and beverage sector is a vital one, not just in reducing its portion of emissions but in helping to safeguard food security for a growing population. The opportunity to demonstrate competitive credentials, to innovate and future-proof our businesses is significant, particularly if taken advantage of now.

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