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What is a ‘Carbon Footprint’ and why does it matter?

Fionnuala Fahy, Strategic Insights

‘Reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the agri-food sector, from farming and fishing, to food manufacturing, to retail, in order to limit the sector to its ‘fair share’ of total allowable emissions in a 1.5 - 2°C world.’ (Bord Bia Global Sustainability Insights, 2021)

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There is increasing pressure from consumers, retailers and governments for food and drink companies to be transparent with their environmental impact across the entire value chain. New reporting requirements will see carbon footprint measurements as mandatory and communicating this measurement on pack is a new territory for both companies and consumers. This article will look at new Origin Green reporting requirements, EU policy in the pipeline, companies that are currently adopting carbon labelling and an introduction to an upcoming Bord Bia study in this space.

Origin Green Members now required to report Scope 3 Emissions

Last year Origin Green, Ireland’s national food and drink sustainability programme published new procedures and guidelines putting carbon emission targets at the forefront of priority reporting for members. This year marks a significant shift for Tier 1 and Tier 2 member companies who will have to include a more comprehensive assessment of their entire carbon footprint. This will include value chain emissions, which incorporates all Scope 3 emissions. ‘Scope 3 emissions occur beyond the factory gate and should be considered in both upstream activities (purchased or acquired goods and services) and downstream activities (sold goods and services)’ (Origin Green, 2021).

What will this mean for Irish Food and Drink Companies?

There is increasing pressure from both customers and consumers for suppliers to become more transparent and reporting the entire carbon footprint of the business offers an opportunity to do so. In 2021, 66% of trade buyers globally claimed that having the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions/carbon footprint is important when choosing a supplier (Bord Bia Global Sustainability Insights, 2021). Recently, the 5 biggest retailers in the UK have set Scope 3 targets and as more customers do so, suppliers such as Origin Green members that have this data readily available could be prospective partners.

In addition to industry demand, there will be rising pressure at EU level to adopt these reporting practices. As part of the European Green Deal, the ‘Farm to Fork Strategy’ aims to reduce the environmental impact of the EU food system and facilitate the shift to healthy and sustainable diets. Part of this strategy will be to empower consumers to make better choices through information on labels. Standardised EU measures in this area would reduce market fragmentation and benefit SME’s in particular as it would reduce the need to comply with different national labelling schemes such as Keyhole or the Nutri-Score. The European Commission is set to adopt its proposal in the fourth quarter of this year (Parliament, 2022).

Communicating Carbon

Food and drink companies will need to simplify choices for consumers and communicate their impact in a straightforward yet comprehensive manner.  Eco-scoring systems that incorporate the life cycle assessment of the product, i.e., farm to fork impact, could help consumers tell the difference between ‘greenwashing’ and authentic environmental claims but there is much education needed in this space (Mintel, 2021). In 2021, 20% of consumers globally claimed that having a “low carbon footprint” influences their grocery shopping, much lower than most other sustainability attributes tested (Bord Bia Global Sustainability Insights, 2021).  Although it may not currently be top of mind for consumers, we are increasingly seeing companies highlight the subject matter and adopt carbon labelling on pack. Strong Roots have committed to reducing carbon and in partnership with CarbonCloud, the company has developed a carbon footprint measurement tool for each product, which incorporates the impact of the full value chain. Recently launched, Airly foods profess to have a negative carbon footprint across the value chain by using regenerative agriculture, sourcing oats from waste, using renewable energy and adopting sustainable packaging, claiming to be the first climate positive snack (Mintel, 2021).

Bord Bia’s Road Map to Labelling

Indeed, with growing conversations around our carbon footprints and net zero targets, brands, businesses and governments have a lot of work to do to demystify sustainability and empower consumers to engage in change for the better. These changes are starting to happen. However, a lot of scepticism remains among consumers and later this year we will be commissioning a study into carbon labelling. The overall objective of this piece of work will be to provide an enhanced understanding around labelling communications, labelling schemes and regulations, which will help clients, and customers market and communicate net zero categories more effectively and help future proof their brands and businesses.

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References

Parliament, E. (2022). Carriage details | Legislative Train Schedule. Retrieved 19 July 2022, from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-european-green-deal/file-mandatory-front-of-pack-nutrition-labelling

Carbon Footprint. (2022). Retrieved 19 July 2022, from https://www.bordbia.ie/industry/insights/global-sustainability-insights/environment-planet/carbon-footprint/

Explore climate footprints | CarbonCloud. (2022). Retrieved 19 July 2022, from https://apps.carboncloud.com/climatehub/product-reports/5391528181070/IRL

Mintel, 2021. SHOW COMMITMENT TO REDUCE CARBON FOOTPRINT– Europe – October 2021. [online] Mintel. Available through: Bord Bia internal library

Origin Green, 2021. Origin Green Guidance Pathways to Net Zero March 2021. [online] Available at: https://www.origingreen.ie/globalassets/origin-green/og-publications/origin-green---pathways-to-net-zero---guidance-document.pdf