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Putting sustainability front and centre

26 August 2022

Emma Piercy discusses the progress of Food and Drink Federation (FDF) member companies when it comes to becoming a more sustainable industry sector.  

The UK’s food security has never faced so many challenges – from severe supply chain disruption brought on by the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine creating relentless price rises whether in energy, ingredients, packaging or logistics, it’s been a tough period for food and drink manufacturers.

Despite this, there is one important issue which Food and Drink Federation (FDF) member companies have not lost sight of. Last year, Defra put climate change and other environmental pressures front and centre as the major risk to the UK's domestic production. 

Not only did the food and drink industry feed the nation during the pandemic, and not only is it doing its utmost to contain soaring inflation, mindful of the impact on consumers, but they remain well aware of their responsibility to ensure our food supply chain is fit for generations to come. 

With manufacturers addressing both the causes and consequences of climate change, the sector is putting sustainability – in all senses – at the core of how businesses operate and develop.

In 2020 the FDF reported manufacturers achieving an absolute reduction of 58% in their scope 1 and 2 CO2 emissions compared to a 1990 baseline, achieving FDF’s Ambition 2025 commitment of 55% five years earlier than planned.  It is for that reason that it has now increased that target to 60%.

Of course, much more needs to be done and as energy costs rise, the contribution of new technologies to help with fuel switching and improve efficiency is increasing.  However, taking the technology from laboratory to warehouse can be challenging, due to the diverse needs of food and drink manufacturers across the supply chain, as well as the affordability and adaptability to the vast array of small businesses that make up the sector.

With 66% of CO2 emissions coming from food consumed in the UK, there is increasing focus on how the farm-to-fork supply chain can play a major role in reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. Manufacturers are integral to this – as demonstrated in our Ambition 2025 programme – and together with the NFU and BRC, the FDF has a shared ambition of going Net Zero by 2040.  

The FDF is also working, together with wider stakeholders under the new leadership of the Food and Drink Sector Council, to co-ordinate and report on its Net Zero activities, and to identify and fill gaps, particularly where system wide collaboration is essential.

A lasting impact
However, to make a truly lasting impact in tackling environment issues, we do need support from UK and devolved governments. For example, improving the amount of recyclable plastic in the economy is a serious problem and one that needs to be addressed. Current plans put forward by the UK Government need to balance changing behaviours with additional costs, while incentivising new innovation and technologies with producer-led best practice and disciplines learnt from many overseas jurisdictions where similar policies are already working well.

We here at the FDF believe the balance has not been achieved. As it stands the aim to achieve a circular economy in plastics will put too much cost on to business, without driving the change we want to see and adding costs which ultimately have to be passed on to consumers. In a cost-of-living crisis this is not right, Ministers must work with industry to find solutions which won’t cost an arm and a leg.

We have much to be positive about – the food and drink industry is putting sustainability front and centre in its operations to be fit for the future, now so more than ever given the challenging times we currently face.

Emma Piercy is head of energy and climate change policy at Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

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