We’ve heard companies discuss their plans for reaching sustainability and emissions goals. Many have promised to reduce emissions across their supply chains, or change production and transportation processes.
However, at times it’s unclear what these changes entail, and how much they’ll truly impact production. In order to understand companies’ promises, we’ll need to understand the different types of emissions, and how a company might plan to address the different aspects of emissions reduction.
Before tackling emission reduction, companies should be familiar with the different types of emissions, and the prevalence of those emissions in their supply chains. The internationally-recognized Greenhouse Gas Protocol divides emissions into three classifications:
- Scope 1 emissions include direct emissions (e.g., factory emissions)
- Scope 2 emissions include indirect emissions through purchased energy and freight(e.g., electricity, transportation).
Scope 3 emissions encompass other indirect emissions related to business activities (e.g., for food companies, among others these may be emissions that take place in the farms).
Scope 1 and scope 3 emissions, which are most relevant for our work in transforming supply chains, are explained below:
A comprehensive plan for achieving net-zero emissions should address all three emission types.
A Phased Approach
Many companies are working to achieve net-zero emissions goals in a phased approach. Transforming supply chains and business practices takes time and diligence; in fact, many companies are dedicating more than a decade to these goals. In doing this, they’re ensuring they achieve their goals appropriately, while maintaining the integrity of their suppliers, partners and customers.
Phase 1: Quantifying emissions
Eliminating emissions is the first step in achieving net-zero emissions goals. In order for a food company to do this, it must quantify their emissions across the supply chain. This includes the farmers, processors and transportation companies they work with.
Advances in science and technology can help producers and companies assess their emissions.
For example, cutting-edge ag technology tools can help farmers take a deeper look at the practices they use in their fields, the crops they’re growing and the inputs they’re using. From there, they can estimate the impact of new practices on their profit and operation resilience.
The same is true for food processing and transportation. The more science and technology advances, the more feasible these assessments will become on a large scale.
Phase 2: Setting goals for emissions reduction
After quantifying current emissions, a company will likely formulate a plan for reducing current emissions. Perhaps they will partner with farmers that employ regenerative farming practices, or invest in more sustainable food transportation options.
Emissions reduction goals are based on a company’s current emissions, and the scope of the impact they can (and are willing to) make on the environment. Many companies have promised “net zero” emissions — meaning they’ll pull as much carbon out of the air as they’re putting into it. This requires quantification, resourcing for new technologies and supply chain evaluations.
Phase 3: Neutralizing emissions
Once a company decides how much they’d like to reduce emissions, they need to find the best way to accomplish their goals. That’s when we begin to consider the neutralization of emissions.
Carbon capture and storage is an innovative way to neutralize emissions, or to store the emissions that already exist in the atmosphere.
These solutions do not have to be artificial or man-made; nature-based solutions like soil carbon can also offer a viable carbon capture pathway.
Regenerative farming practices can sequester carbon in the soil and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. In fact, many industries (including agriculture) have developed a system for valuing stored carbon. This system is the carbon market system, and it allows us to view the carbon involved in our food production as a valuable product instead of a side effect of crop production.
Phase 4: Incentivizing progress
Companies that pay for carbon sequestration through markets or direct farmer partnerships are incentivizing climate-smart farming practices, and allowing farmers to profit off their sustainability efforts.
Companies can trade carbon credits on the Voluntary Carbon Market. Buying one carbon credit allows a company to emit one tonne of carbon or an equivalent greenhouse gas. Countries and companies are assigned a certain amount of credits and are fined if they exceed the cap. However, they can take advantage of the cap-and-trade scheme by selling credits they won’t use. The ultimate objective is to incentivize companies to reduce and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s important to note that, while carbon credits are a well-established way to support emissions reduction, there are opportunities for other ecosystems markets credits, as well. Companies should continue looking for ways to support emissions reductions in markets, as these practices will inevitably change over time.
Finally, companies can incentivize emissions reductions by investing in climate-smart practices, education and tools for partners and producers.
By providing educational materials and easy-to-use tools, companies can encourage their partners to adopt new practices and contribute to a cycle of greenhouse gas reduction.
Transforming our Food Systems
By working toward net-zero emissions goals, companies are changing the way their supply chains operate, and reducing or neutralizing emissions in each step of the process.
This holistic transformation will likely result in increased adoption of climate-smart practices, consumer demand for climate-friendly products, and a stronger business case for a better world.