This weekend, we celebrated World Environment Day; an important reminder of why we do the work that we do in the Low Carbon Business Unit at Gemserv. However, it was also an important time to reflect on the impact that we all have on the environment and how our consumption of food and drink has a greater footprint than you might think.
Food consumed in the UK is responsible for approximately 30% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions1. Beyond emissions, the food and drink sector is responsible for huge amounts of packaging waste, amounting to over 100,000 tonnes2. The sector also uses vast quantities of water and, of course, much of the precious natural resources that go into our food and drink are wasted when it is sadly thrown away.
On the route towards a net zero and a sustainable economy, every sector must play its part, and food and drink industry is no exception. Beyond being critical for our climate and protecting the environment, there is also an increasing business case for environmental impact reduction. In fact, research shows that 29% of adults take environmental impact into consideration when purchasing food3.
Whilst every actor along the journey from farm to fork must play its part, we have recently been working with the food and drink manufacturing sector, which forms a key part of this journey. The sector has already made great strides in progressing towards a decarbonised and sustainable future. Last year, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) reported exceeding an emissions target five years early with a 55.5% reduction in CO2 emissions from manufacturing operations in 2019, compared to 1990 levels. FDF members have also demonstrated great commitment to key initiatives such as the UK Plastics Pact and Food Waste Reduction Roadmap4. However, with the majority of emissions from food and drink associated with extensive value chains, more work must be done. That is why earlier this year, the FDF made an exciting commitment on behalf of the food and drink manufacturing sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the UK Government’s target5, 6.
This is a pioneering ambition which will be incredibly valuable in driving progress. However, to achieve the target, there are some barriers that need to be considered. They fit into six easily digestible themes.
Supply chains within the food and drink sector are highly complex, running all the way from farm to fork. Supply Chain Decarbonisation
Many companies within the sector are SMEs and lack the resource to invest in decarbonisation. A Lack of Time/Financial Resource
Short term business goals can take precedent over climate action and there are cases of ‘greenwashing’ in the sector. Short Term Business Need vs Long Term Targets
There is a lack of a long-term policy trajectory and a need for a supportive framework to enable decarbonisation across the whole sector. Policy Frameworks
There is low awareness of some solutions and in specific cases, a lack of available alternatives to key technologies. There are complexities with decarbonising heat and cooking technologies, such as gas ovens, and transport. Awareness of Low Carbon Solutions
Consistent methodologies are lacking to enable organisations to account for carbon emissions, leading to disparities across the sector as well as reports of challenges in attaining emissions data from intermediaries. Information Provision/Lack of Available Data
Tackling climate change is not the responsibility of one sector, it is a whole economy effort. It requires a mix of individual action and also necessitates partners working together to determine a clear direction of travel based on a clear target and establishing clear roles and responsibilities. The Food and Drink manufacturing sector now has that clear target and it is great to see initiatives like the West Midlands Low Carbon and Circular Economy Innovation Fund bringing partners together. It has been great to have played a part in supporting the sector and we are proud to be involved in this journey.
Whilst it is clear food and drink manufacturers face many barriers on the route to decarbonisation, with the right support from the Government at the national and local level and effective collaboration, the opportunities presented by transition may be unlocked.
As consumers, we can also drive positive change. Those with the ability to do so should consider how they can play their part, not just on World Environment Day but every day. Whether this is through better consideration of the journey your food makes from farm to fork or considering how you may reduce your environmental impact in another way, just remember, it all adds up.
Ellie Burkill, Policy Analyst at Gemserv
1WRAP | Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
2UK Parliament | Plastic Packaging
3Farming UK | Public Becoming Environmentally Aware When Buying Food
4FDF | FDF’s Ambition 2025: Shaping Sustainable Value Chains
5FDF | Climate Change and Net Zero