The end-to-end value chain in the food industry, from farm to fork, accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With consumers rapidly becoming expectant of food brands, supermarkets and high-street restaurant operators to commit to net zero, how can food manufacturers take responsibility and make a meaningful difference to the average 92% of emissions that fall within Scope 3, or outside of their direct control?

What is net zero?

Net zero refers to a state in which you achieve a balance between emissions by sources and removals by sinks, of greenhouse gases. The Paris Agreement underlines the need for net zero in order to stop global warming. In May 2019, the UK Committee on Climate Change proposed an ambition to achieve net zero by 2050.

Within the framework for GHG reporting in the UK, ‘Scopes’, which were designated in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol of 2001, are used to categorise the origin of carbon emissions a company creates in the act of operating their business.

Scope 1 – Direct emissions from owned or controlled assets of an organisation or under their control, such as a manufacturing plant. This also includes fuel combustion on site such as gas boilers or ovens, or fleet vehicles.

Scope 2 – Indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the organisation.

Scope 3 – All other indirect emissions from activities of the organisation’s value chain, occurring from sources that they do not own or control. These are usually the greatest share of the carbon footprint, covering emissions associated with procured supplies, transport, land use and water. This scope is so vast, it has been split into 15 sub-categories both upstream, such as sourcing ingredients, packaging and associated distribution, and downstream, such as end user recycling and food waste. Making up on average 90-95% of emissions for manufacturers, addressing these is integral to fulfilling commitments on becoming net zero for any food organisation.

So the pathway to net zero will not be easy. Moreso, The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Net Zero Standard states that for a company’s target to be net zero and align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target, it must aim to halve its greenhouse gas emissions across Scope 1 and 2 and two thirds of Scope 3 by the end of this decade, and then make a minimum 90-95% reduction in all scopes by mid-century. Only then may it use net negatives such as carbon capture to neutralise any last remaining emissions, or pay anyone else to offset on their behalf.

Consumer-facing organisations and food brands will be under pressure from an ever-more conscious, and educated, customer base to make a meaningful difference on the path to net zero; greenwashing or purely relying on offsets or credits, will not be good enough. The consumer will probably not even understand what Scope 3 is, but that is irrelevant, they will expect organisations to take responsibility for it anyway in the greater picture of a sustainable future and this agenda will be driven down through the value chain by those selling directly to consumers.

How can organisations begin to assess Scope 3 emissions?

This is where the hard work really starts. Despite being crucial to reducing GHG emissions, Scope 3 falls outside mandatory reporting requirements in the UK for large businesses and is therefore too often ignored or de-prioritised. However, compulsory reporting is likely to be extended to Scope 3 in time, as the journey to net zero evolves and is more mandated by the government.

By investigating and investing in solution design now, food manufacturers can jump ahead of their competitors and tactically build a plan to deliver Scope 3 targets with costs phased over a longer period, aligned with other procurement and supply chain initiatives to drive efficiencies in measuring, reporting, strategic planning and implementation.

Organisations will have to take their supply base on a data-led journey to better transparency and traceability in the supply chain, back to the farm, perhaps over many lifecycle stages of a product. Measurement and reporting will be key to understanding a baseline and creating an action plan for reducing emissions.

Is visibility and access to the right data acting as a barrier for your company to begin the journey to net zero?

With the ever-increasing commercial pressures surrounding companies’ environmental impact and thus, carbon footprint, there is a competitive advantage for those organisations who are acting now. At 4C Associates, we have developed proprietary carbon emissions calculation technology that utilises company spending and internal data to calculate Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, providing a comprehensive and holistic view of an organisation’s carbon profile.

Furthermore, through performing deep-dive analysis on the derived carbon footprint, we are able to deliver data-driven insights and develop initiatives to create a tailored carbon reduction plan. Scope 3 may be outside of an organisation’s direct control but by providing visibility 4C Associates are able to help businesses navigate the complex and increasingly regulated ecosystem around emissions and start planning effectively for the future, helping them make informed decisions to work with only the most collaborative and allied suppliers on true partnership enterprises on the path to net zero.

For more information on how 4C Associates can help you develop a net zero strategy, please contact Gavin Bowen-Ashwin.

Sources: Carbon Footprint Ltd, Carbon Trust, The UK Committee on Climate Change, edie, fdf (Food and Drink Federation),,,, (graphic by Hannah Ritchie),,