3 questions food companies must answer to hit their climate target

Following is a guest post from Julie Nash, senior program director of Food and Forests
at Ceres.

The tide is finally starting to shift for climate action in the food sector. Key players, including Campbell Soup, JM Smucker, General Mills and Kraft Heinz have taken concrete steps to improve their emissions disclosures and targets in the past year.

Cooperation from the food sector is vital in the transition to a lower emissions economy, and these commitments signal a growing willingness by food companies to pivot from business as usual and start making big changes to reduce climate risk.

Despite this, according to a preliminary analysis of companies tracked by Ceres’ Food Emissions 50, very few of them have taken the next step and disclosed comprehensive strategies and steps for how they will deliver on these commitments. This is where climate transition plans come in.

Climate transition plans translate a company’s global targets for emissions reductions into a concrete plan with specific, measurable and time-bound goals. They constitute a collection of evidence that a company is aligning relevant aspects of its business with its climate-related goals and emissions reduction targets. That makes them a crucial accountability mechanism for companies and their external stakeholders, ensuring that brands move forward to reduce emissions in line with what is needed to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Julie Nash

Permission granted by Ceres

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a climate transition plan. Instead, it must be tailored to a company’s circumstances, and use specific strategies that address its sub-industry, place in the supply chain, corporate structure, operating regions, and other key factors. This can leave companies struggling to find a foothold to begin their transition.

The fine details

How can food companies get started? To be successful, climate transition plans should inform business decisions at every level of a company’s operations. In a new report, Ceres recommends strategies that address procurement, operations, and growth and innovation for food companies looking to operationalize their climate transition plan. Here are three key questions food companies can ask themselves to guide their transition to lower emissions:

1. Does the company assess its emissions from purchased goods and services to identify the largest categories and sources of emissions from its supply chain and engage with suppliers accordingly?

For most companies in the food sector, their supply chains account for the bulk of their emissions. A common obstacle to reducing supply chain emissions is the ability to trace the source of the emissions. Companies need mechanisms that enable them to trace where commodities come from so that they can understand the full extent of their emissions and know where to direct strategies for reducing them, since they may differ between commodities and growing regions.

After assessing the source of supply chain emissions, companies should help their suppliers do the same. They should also provide financial incentives and technical assistance to help suppliers shift to practices and technologies that can address key drivers of emissions. To improve accountability to investors and other stakeholders, companies should disclose the percentage of their suppliers who have a reduction target or the percentage of their emissions covered by existing supplier targets.

2. Does the company have a plan to address energy-related emissions associated with its operations, transportation and waste?

As companies reduce emissions from purchased goods and services, much of the remainder will come from their direct operations, transportation and distribution, and waste management practices.

To address the energy used to process food — one of the key emission drivers in the food sector’s direct operations — companies should commit to sourcing 100% renewable energy through initiatives such as the RE100, a group of influential companies that are adopting 100% renewable energy . Companies should also increase overall energy efficiency by improving operational efficiency, optimizing energy consumption during non-production times, and recovering heat energy from production processes.

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