Corporate Climate Leadership at the Dining Table

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Vincent Hoen
Sustainable Industries and Services
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Over the last 3 years, 341 companies have joined the Science Based Targets initiative, of which at least 40 are from the food and beverage sector. These companies include household names such as Walmart, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and PepsiCo, with billions in combined revenue. Why are these food and beverage companies integrating climate science in their strategies and how is consumer behavior influencing this?

The agricultural and forestry sector alone is responsible for over 10 gigatons of CO2 equivalent annually. This equates to about 20% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2016 joint report from the University of Aberdeen, the energy experts of Navigant and Ecofys, and PBL. These emissions are embedded in the food we eat and the beverages we drink. Due to increasingly better corporate citizenship and pressure from non-governmental organizations and investors, major food and beverage brands are developing climate targets to reduce emissions from this sector, and they are publishing their targets online.

What Is the Purpose of Science-Based Targets?

Science-based targets (SBTs) are both an approach and a communications vehicle to help companies contribute to the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting warming to 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. Consumer brands with a climate SBT not only look at their own emissions, but they also seek to reduce emissions in their supply chain. These emissions include those related to the agriculture sector, such as meat, dairy, and any other crops, as well as processing and logistics. This full value chain approach in the end helps consumers reduce their climate impact.

Investors Recognize Climate Threats to Business

Investors recognize that the food and beverage supply chain is exposed to many climate risks, including physical risks such as changes to weather patterns and sea levels, and those linked to the transition to a low carbon economy, such as policy and reputational risks. Major food, beverage, and apparel brands take this to heart and are responding by developing roadmaps to reduce emissions and risk management procedures to prepare for a changing climate. I will discuss climate related risk in more detail in my next blog.

Consumers Increase Their Opportunities to Make Better Decisions for the Climate

The Science Based Targets initiative, an initiative of World Wildlife Foundation, CDP, and World Resources Institute, provides a unique opportunity for consumers to reduce emissions by identifying the brands that are actively engaging on climate change and developing strategies to reduce their impact. Consumers can also reduce emissions by being mindful of the choices they make at a restaurant or store. For instance, beef has higher embedded emissions than pork or chicken, and dairy has higher embedded emissions than plant-based products. However, for companies that are on an SBT pathway, the gap between the carbon footprint of these ingredients is likely to decrease.

SBTs and increased customer insight in the embedded emissions of what they buy are trends that are here to stay. If you are looking at how to approach this theme for your organization, contact Vincent Hoen for information on the corporate sustainability services Navigant offers.

This blog post was also published to navigantresearch.com.

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