Helping Scottish food businesses achieve Net Zero

11 February 2022

I have the privilege to work with food manufacturers large and small, from all corners of the UK. It’s a job I love, and never more than in recent years where food companies of all sizes have managed to keep the nation fed though successive challenges. From leaving the EU to labour shortages to national lockdowns, our #HiddenHeroes have continued throughout to produce high quality, safe and tasty food.

Topics

Looking forward, food is front and centre of many of society’s grand challenges including reaching Net Zero, reducing plastic waste, enabling health. That we need to tackle these issues in unquestionable. Focusing in on Net Zero alone, it is apparent this reaches across every aspect of the food supply chain: sourcing and growing ingredients; the manufacture process; how we package foods; the foods people choose to eat; as well as food waste.

It is easy to see a role for Scottish Government, as well as the UK and Welsh governments, for example in ensuring energy transition funding is available for small and medium sized manufacturers. More specifically, I see a critical role for Food Standards Scotland as a regulator as we go through this journey, such as considering novel foods and allergenicity, the impacts of changing food contact materials, and influencing consumer behaviour to name but a few.

For our part, the FDF has committed to reaching Net Zero by 2040. The critical part is how. How do we help businesses, whatever their size, to see what they can each do; what it means for their operations now and how they can plan for the future? How can we help them to translate a maze of academic evidence and government policy initiatives into easy to find, practical action?

Getting started on the journey

It is very easy to become overawed by the sheer scale of the challenges ahead. The recent UK Food Security Report highlighted the biggest medium to long term risk to the UK’s domestic production comes from climate change and other environmental pressures. So where to start?

For any business looking at the sustainability agenda, setting the right foundations is critical to long-term success. This starts by considering the context in which a business operates and the exposure it faces to climate change and developing a strategic plan. Then it is about communicating at all levels within the company, on why actions need to be taken to decarbonize.

To help turn these words in to actions, at the FDF we are collaborating across the supply chain on creating a sector wide plan on working to Net Zero. We are also helping guide manufacturers in their green recovery through our ‘Achieving Net Zero’ handbook, launched at COP26. The free to download handbook provides practical guidance for food and drink manufacturers, particularly those at the early stages of developing their climate strategy, on how to address these climate challenges. The document is written with small and medium enterprises in mind – essential when you consider 97% of food businesses in Scotland are SMEs, similar to the other nations of the UK.

In Scotland we will deliver Net Zero support as part of the Scotland Food & Drink partnership. This plan puts Net Zero at the heart of industry strategy in Scotland. There are a range of actions in train or proposed which will raise awareness amongst businesses large and small. We want to support businesses to make informed decisions. In response, we will work collaboratively through the supply chain and with other academic, government and business partners to tackle shared challenges and propose solutions that others can learn from. We will continue to work with a range of partner – including Food Standards Scotland – on making sure we can deliver this important work.

Adapting as we go

Of course, as companies and consumers start to adapt behaviours it is important that we continue to look to what developing science tells us, and to measure impacts of change so that we can correct course as needed. A critical element of any approach will be setting out suitable metrics and defining what success looks like.

The FDF is already working in partnership with WRAP as part of cross food chain work to develop metrics and data focussing on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprinting. We believe working with organisations like WRAP, who lead on the delivery of an agreed aligned approach across sectors, is an important element of moving forward.

This may also help in another hot topic – environmental labelling of products, a topic that’s worthy of a blog all to itself. But as a passing mention, in order to provide trusted labelling consumers can use to make informed choices, a consistent industry wide methodology and set of data sources will be needed.

Wider than carbon footprinting, proposals for a Food and Data Transparency Partnership are currently being considered as part of the Food Strategy for England, part of which will look at environmental metrics. There is of course a value of data sharing; bringing existing reporting into one place, to enable standardisation and transparency and effective monitoring of progress. As always, the devil will be in the detail and ensuring the metrics chosen demonstrate progress towards the stated end goal. In this, as in many areas, we want to work in partnership with all the governments around the UK to help achieve shared goals without increasing unnecessary bureaucracy.

Working together

Achieving Net Zero has been much talked about. The need for action across all elements of our food system is undeniable, as is the need for academics, regulators, civil society and businesses to work together if we’re to succeed. Many companies will already have strategies and plans. Others will need help to be able to see how they can adapt and change, whilst turning a profit and most importantly still making the safe, tasty food people expect. At the FDF we aim to support all our companies, large or small as they make these changes.

Kate Halliwell is the Chief Scientific Officer at the Food and Drink Federation