Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) underlines the case for sustainability and outlines what his organisation is doing to make its members more environmentally friendly while optimising profits.
Every smart manufacturer is aware of how important it is to keep climate change on the business agenda during the current economic downturn – not least because of the political pressure we can expect in the wake of this year’s global conference in Copenhagen.
At FDF we have always recognised the importance of making a strong business case for any environmental activity. But in truth, most environmental work is not only the right thing to be doing – in terms of minimising use of precious resources or our sector’s contribution to climate change – it also tends to make sound business sense.
We are also aware that UK food systems are determined by consumer demand, and consumers increasingly want food to be sustainable and nutritious while retaining high quality, taste and affordability.
The best businesses understand that they must embrace this agenda. It is now a clear goal for major political parties to create a low carbon economy here in the UK, and those efforts continue to gather pace. Industry leaders can either choose to ignore this uncomfortable fact as they grapple with today’s tough operational realities, or they can accept that such thinking must be hard-wired into future business planning if their companies are to remain truly sustainable (and viable).
So how do we do that? How can businesses adapt to ensure they are well placed to compete in a future low carbon economy?
Well, in October 2007, FDF and its members showed genuine leadership when we launched a groundbreaking pledge to reduce our environmental impacts in the five key areas where we all felt we could make the biggest difference. This Five-fold Environmental Ambition provides a pretty good model for most businesses to embrace – it was certainly praised recently by the Prince of Wales during the May Day Summit on Climate Change as an example of how sectors could work together on this issue.
The FDF Ambition sets out a number of commitments for member companies covering CO2 emissions, water reduction, food packaging, factory waste and transport miles.
Our members are making good progress against all five pillars. But I will talk in detail about just one pillar – the stretching targets we have set on CO2 emissions (a target of 20% by 2010 against a 1990 baseline). We have set ambitious targets because we recognise that UK food and drink manufacturing overall accounts for some 12 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. This represents 11% of UK food chain emissions and just under 2% of UK total emissions from all sources.
The latest figures available under our Climate Change Agreement with Government show that our members reduced their carbon emissions by 17% in 2006, compared with 1990 – that’s an average saving of of 58,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. We are, therefore, confident that our members are on track to hit our first milestone of a 20% reduction by 2010.
Our reductions to date have been achieved through efficiency measures, greater productivity and, increasingly, investment in renewable sources of energy. All of which has the added benefit of helping food and drink companies reduce their operating costs, of course.
The Climate Change Agreements are currently being reviewed by DECC. And we are keen that Government maintains our Agreement until 2017 and beyond. This consistent approach is really important in encouraging companies to keep making long-term investment decisions, while ensuring our sector remains competitive as we move towards a low carbon future.
We are working with members across all five pillars of our Ambition – and in a few weeks we will be unveiling more good news on our collective efforts to reduce water usage in our sector’s factories. (Watch this space!)
All of which shows that our sector is already thinking strategically about how to compete in tomorrow’s low carbon economy. Our members understand that what’s good for the environment can also be good for their bottom lines. But above all, they recognise that this is the right thing for the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector to be doing – even in the current economic downturn.
By Julian Hunt, director of communications for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
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