Expert Opinion: The journey to net zero for food & agriculture - beyond target-setting

October 1, 2021
Combine harvester

In this article originally published in Environment Analyst, Christine Delivanis discusses the unique challenges and opportunities for the food and farming industry as climate plans progress to implementation, and taking the steps required to achieve measurable improvement on ghg emissions.

How do you spot the difference between a company committed to fighting the climate crisis and one just trying to pull the green wool over your eyes? It’s the question on many stakeholders’ lips right now – from shareholders and employees, to customers, to regulators and wider communities. The answer lies in another question: how do you plan to achieve your climate goals?

The publication of the IPCC Special Report on global warming in 2018 paved the way for the rise of rhetoric around setting fixed deadlines for decisive climate action. It even birthed an entire certification universe focused solely on assisting companies with target-setting.

Now, various deadlines are on the horizon – but while lofty net zero targets abound, detailed plans for reaching them are in short supply. At best, it’s poor planning. At worst, it’s greenwashing.

The energy sector, due to its clear links to fossil fuel extraction, has received considerable scrutiny on this issue. However, other high emitting sectors, such as food and agriculture, are still in a place where the gap between corporate rhetoric on targets and detail on specific delivery plans and on the ground action remains wide. These days, there is considerable reputational benefit to announcing a comprehensive ESG strategy, and a set of net zero targets – but because these targets are not legally mandated, no one is holding these companies to account. Right?

Wrong. Consumers are not quick to forget a promise. A 2018 Nielsen poll found that 38% of consumers were willing to pay more for products containing environmentally friendly or sustainable materials. And more than 50% of 18- to 24-year-olds (i.e. the future generation of consumers) would boycott a brand if they discovered they were greenwashing, according to a recent OnePoll study. More than a quarter of this age group would then actively encourage others to do the same.

Food and agriculture companies must begin thinking meaningfully about what steps will be required to achieve net zero. The why is clear – to contribute to the global effort to mitigate climate change, to get out ahead of potential regulatory and policy decisions, and to avoid consumer backlash. But what about that how?