How to get the food industry on track

Reducing emissions in a giant and growing industry

How to get the food industry on track

There are industries that struggle with keeping their emissions down and the food industry is definitely one of them. This is especially important when looking at emissions on a large scale, as the industry is one of the biggest emitters of CO2. Agriculture makes up 13.8 % of global emissions, and this is not including the long journey that food takes from the farm to the consumer. But why is it like that? How does agriculture responsible for such a high amount of emissions? 

Peaks in food-related emissions

To get a better understanding of why the industry ends up in the news every year with new peaks in emissions, we need to go back to the origin of food. While food manufacturers have relatively moderate direct emissions, this does not hold when you look across the entire value chain. Agriculture accounts not only for the majority but for up to 95 % of all emissions caused by food production. This creates a very miserable situation: Food manufacturers are not the direct emitters and they neither have control over emissions nor do they have clear insights into their supplier’s business.  

How accountability solves problems in the food industry

But why is it even necessary that manufacturers take accountability for their supplier’s emissions? In the past it was a common strategy for companies to push responsibilities into the supply chain to draw a greener picture of their own business. Companies still tend to do so nowadays to let their customers believe that they are climate friendly. Awareness of supply chains among the general population has only grown in the last couple of years, especially highlighted first by COVID and now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With tight regulations to reach global climate goals, tackling Scope 3 emissions and placing an emphasis on decarbonization is the only way to reduce the impacts of climate change. In the food industry especially, competition puts a high price pressure on manufacturers which they pass on to their suppliers. Farmers therefore often don’t even have the chance financially to make sustainability a priority. Manufacturers on the other hand often have the financial means, and have access to the resources needed for lowering emissions. 

What is the status quo in emissions management in the food industry? The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) has ranked the 350 biggest food manufacturers on several aspects including their environmental efforts. The results are disappointing: Only 26 of them set targets for reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and just 7 of them have targets for reducing their Scope 3 emissions. While the global demand for food has a clear upward trend, immediate action by food manufacturers is needed. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: The United States Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) is discussing new rules that make disclosure of Scope 3 emissions mandatory for companies. This would prevent companies from passing responsibilities onward or hiding from them altogether. It also obligates companies to understand their value chains better. Of course, this does not automatically lead to a reduction of emissions, but it is a first step and a necessary one in order to facilitate emissions management. It also makes companies more comparable and allows for consumers to get a better overview on the actual CO2 reduction efforts of the companies that they support with their purchases. 

We will only know after the implementation how much impact the new SEC regulations will have. Hopefully, other countries will follow this movement and reducing Scope 3 will soon be a topic on everyone’s mind, as well as a target in every company. 


Photo by Megan Thomas from Unsplash