Can Big Society tackle climate change?

Posted on 8 Dec 2010 by The Manufacturer

Julian Hunt of the FDF says the environment has to take centre stage in government's strategy for manufacturing

But we have always believed that those manufacturers who embraced this agenda – by focusing on the areas of their business over which they had most control – would discover that what was good for the environment was nearly always good for their bottom line as well.

Our experience over the past three years has borne out that belief – with member companies reporting significant reductions in their environmental impacts, typically achieved by driving greater operating efficiencies through their businesses.

In fact, we have this month announced that:

• Member companies have reduced their carbon emissions by 21% since 1990;
• 42 leading businesses are working on a water reduction commitment and saved more than two million cubic metres of water in 2009
• Our members have halved the amount of food and packaging waste sent from their factories to landfill in the past three years to just 9%.

FDF member companies have been so successful at working towards the commitments we set in 2007 that we have updated our targets to challenge the sector to go further and faster across all five pillars of the Ambition. On carbon, for instance, FDF members are now committing to reduce their emissions by 35% by 2020 compared to a 1990 baseline – ahead of the Government’s current climate change targets.

In a more resource-constrained future, it’s clear the industry is going to have to do more to encourage greater efficiency of resource use. Very simply, more will need to be produced with less – and with less impact – if we are to ensure that sustainable food and drink production can be at the heart of a strong, internationally-competitive, low-carbon UK economy.

It’s also clear that food and drink manufacturers need to look beyond their own businesses and examine their impacts across the supply chain – particularly with regards the sourcing of our raw materials.

We also need to think more carefully about the behaviours of our consumers – food waste in the home has a much bigger impact than packaging and transport put together, and for many products the way in which people store and cook our products probably accounts for more carbon emissions than the manufacturing process itself.

Now a lot of these issues are hugely complex and require collective and joined-up action – perhaps another way of saying Big Society.

That does not mean we should stop bearing down hard on the things we can control directly within our own operations – which has been the primary focus of our efforts to date under the Five-fold Environmental Ambition.

But we recognise our responsibilities and as part of our review of the Ambition we have published a new set of five broad sustainability principles that recognise the wider context. These principles will guide our ongoing efforts to work collaboratively with a wide range of stakeholders to reduce our sector’s overall impact on the environment, and – we hope – help us to galvanise industry to keep responding innovatively to the many challenges that lie ahead.

We believe that a combination of new targets – and this new thinking – will help us to work with many of you to take our Five-fold Environmental Ambition to the next level. After all, I think we all recognise that business as usual is no longer an option.

But we can’t do all this on our own.

Many of the things constraining our future ability to respond to the twin challenges of climate change and global food security need Government action.

In particular, as the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, we want to see a fiscal framework that, among many things, promotes resource efficiency, stimulates innovation and ensures, above all else, that the UK will attract the levels of investment that will be needed if our sector is to remain competitive.

Take climate change and energy regulation. This remains a complicated and crowded policy environment where businesses have long been crying out for clarity to help guide their long-term investment decisions (and for Treasury to resist the temptation to introduce stealth taxes that undermine our competitiveness).

To its credit, Defra has a shared vision with us for the future – that of ensuring we have a competitive and resilient industry here in the UK providing British consumers with safe, healthy and sustainable food.

The challenge now is working together to turn that aspiration into concrete – ‘Big Society’ – action.