Major food brands suffer from 'carbon tunnel vision' on sustainability targets

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The balance between sustainability and resilience is key for a successful supply chain
The balance between sustainability and resilience is key for a successful supply chain

Related tags scope 3 emissions Sustainability

Major food and beverage brands are too focused on carbon reduction to the detriment of other areas in which they can achieve net zero, according to Supply Pilot.

Speaking at Innovation Zero, a congress targeting low carbon transformation, Supply Pilot chief executive James Butcher warned businesses to not lose focus on the 17 sustainable development goals set by the UN in their pursuit of reducing carbon emissions.

“We need to consider the biosphere, our resource limitations and social impact, but this myopic approach to aiming for ‘low carbon’ is holding us back,”​ said Butcher. “It’s an area where government, retailers and large brands have the ability to force the issue, but unfortunately there aren’t too many that are walking the walk.

“Take Coca-Cola for example – they know that glass bottles and aluminium cans are both more sustainable than plastic, so why don’t they stop plastic being an option? 

“If Coca-Cola was to put all its effort into returnable bottles and aluminium cans, it would be more circular, more sustainable and – in the long term – create less carbon. However, it doesn’t have the short-term, headline-hitting carbon impact they’re looking for, so it isn’t on their agenda.”

Sustainability/resilience balance

Butcher also stated that the balance between supply chain being sustainable and resilient wasn’t an either/or decision – creating a sustainable supply chain often leads to a more resilient one as well.

“The multi-year impact we’ve had from the long tail of the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the subsequent fuel crisis and inflation has meant that companies have a renewed focus on availability within their supply chains,” ​Butcher explained.

“In some cases, this has come at the expense of sustainability initiatives, but this misses the point – more sustainable supply chains are more naturally resilient.”

An example he gave was the shortage of flour experienced during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, an issue not caused by a lack of the product, but by a shortage in packaging being supplied from China.

Scope 1,2,3 emissions

Butcher challenged the idea that practices implemented to curb the growth of Scope 1 and 2 emissions could be transferred to Scope 3.

“Scope 1 and 2 are very much focused on primary energy sources and things that are within your control, but Scope 3 requires a much broader look at materials, and a fundamentally different approach to supplier engagement which leans heavily on collaboration,”​ he added.

“Many suppliers focus on applying a Pareto principle to supplier engagement, putting most of their efforts into working with the top ten-to-twenty per cent of their supply chain. While this can be effective in some areas, the reality is that when it comes to working towards sustainability, the approach needs to be more inclusive and bring all suppliers on the journey.

“There is currently a lot of focus on reporting, but not enough on action. There is an arms race for our ‘green’ resources which is going to have a serious economic impact, but some businesses not only haven’t started, but don’t even know the race is going on. Businesses need to get ahead of the challenges, or risk a highly uncertain future.”

Related topics Supply Chain Drinks Environment

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