The link between ethics and Net Zero

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ethics Sustainability Net zero

How is ethics and Net Zero related? Food Manufacture hears from Food Ethics Council’s Dan Crossley to find out following his participation in the recent FoodEx panel, 'The Race to Net Zero'.

Four years ago, landmark legalisation came into force in the UK around Net Zero emissions.

With the food sector responsible for an estimated third of greenhouse gas emissions, conversations around how Net Zero can be achieved has been a popular talking point.  

Last Tuesday (25 April 2023), four experts came together to discuss the race to Net Zero. Among them was Dan Crossley, Executive Director at the Food Ethics Council. But what does ethics have to do with hitting these targets?

“The biggest challenge right now when it comes to ethics is the disconnect lots of people have with their food,”​ Crossley said.

Although there are many reasons for this, for Crossley the main one is regarding how we treat ourselves and each other as ‘consumers’. He elaborated: “We need to think of ourselves as ‘people’ or ‘food citizens’, rather than consumers who say they care but if you look in their shopping basket are actually not always buying the most environmentally friendly, highest welfare items. But people do care, we’re just not given the opportunity to show it.

“We need to connect more with our food and related to that is the perception that ethics is only something for the privileged white middle class – and I say this as a white middle class male – but actually it’s for everybody. We are all affected by ethics, often it’s the poorest that are affected the most by the big decisions around food. It’s critical that we all take action to get to a food system that is fair. Food manufacturers have lots of opportunities in this space to accelerate that shift towards fairer food systems, including taking action on climate and biodiversity, obesity etc. The flip side is, that those who don’t take action will lose out – your customers are looking for supply that cuts Net Zero targets, that is looking after its workers, that is producing healthy products, so those companies that aren’t doing that will lose out.”

Food manufacturing is the biggest manufacturing sector in the country and as such we have a responsibility – and opportunity – to work towards a better system. As Crossley told Food Manufacture, although it’s complex, we can produce food more fairly, whilst being mindful of human and planetary health.

“There are some big actions needed, but food manufacturers often think of themselves as the helpless one in the middle – but there’s a lot they can do.

“At the moment it feels like there is a crawl towards something approaching Net Zero, which isn’t good enough. We need to step on the accelerator for the next few laps of this ‘race’.”

Commenting further on the link between ethics and Net Zero, Crossley added: “Ethics is all about the impact on others, including future generations. If we don’t take action on climate and nature, then we are leaving this burden on the next generation, which is unfair. For those of us working in the UK, we have an added responsibility, due to the amount of emissions we produce compared to others.

“Ethics teaches us to think about what we should do all things considered. We can’t just make incremental progress, we need to accelerate progress and make sure we are thinking about what will be the impact of our decisions.”

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