Climate change affects us on every level of society: from our personal lives to our corporate operations and supply chains. These effects are felt across regions, ecosystems and industries. It’s become clear that neither individuals nor corporations can afford to ignore the environmental threats we face today.
As individuals, we often hear about the sustainable choices we can make in our own lives, to better our environment. Businesses, however, have a much larger task. Businesses must address their impact on the environment across their industry and within their product supply chains.
To address this, many organizations have announced ‘net zero emissions’ goals. These goals are pledges, borne of corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, which suggest that a country or organization should not produce any more greenhouse gases (GHG) than it takes out from the atmosphere. To achieve this, two actions must be taken: 1) reducing GHG emissions and 2) taking GHG out of the atmosphere.
This sounds like a sustainable, valuable way to combat climate change. However, is it actually possible?
Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility
As mentioned, net-zero emissions goals are often part of a company’s CSR strategy. Ethics and social accountability are at the heart of corporate social responsibility. This business strategy ensures that the company’s operations help and do not harm society and the environment.
Also called corporate citizenship, CSR takes various forms depending on the company and industry it belongs to. CSR not only benefits society, but it also helps businesses by improving brand reputation and sales. Additionally, implementing CR enhances relationships between companies and employees, and strengthens bonds between employees and the greater community.
Today, more and more companies are engaging in environmentally responsible activities as part of their CSR efforts. Global news of forest fires, heat waves, and unprecedented flooding has pushed companies to invest in sustainable operations and carbon footprint reduction.
In recent years, achieving net-zero emissions has become a popular environmental CSR initiative.
Net-Zero Goals and Food Companies
Food companies have a significant role to play in increasing the health and equity of today’s food systems. Efforts to enhance our food systems are intricately tied to climate action, and corporations that are directly involved in food systems have the power and demand to influence our food systems by developing more sustainable supply chains.
Achieving net-zero emissions goals is imperative for food and farming organizations. Agriculture alone contributes to 17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — and that doesn’t include the emissions caused by transporting food, processing food or land use changes associated with farming. If a food company can reach net-zero emissions within its supply chains, it will make a significant impact on our climate and on the development of our food systems for the future.
Are These Goals Achievable?
In short, yes. Corporate social responsibility efforts build a business and economic incentive for reducing emissions and reforming harmful practices. Net-zero emissions goals require companies to understand their own emissions, quantify their practices and put real numbers behind their efforts.
Net-zero emissions goals, when powered by well-structured business initiatives, can make a significant impact on the future of our climate. To achieve net-zero goals food companies will have to invest in transforming their agricultural supply chains, creating emissions reduction within their own supply chains, and generating assets called ‘insets’. For some companies, who have integrated and fully own their supply chains, this may be easier than for companies that source ingredients from many suppliers (these supply chains are less transparent). Some brands seek to buy offsets — that is, to pay someone to sequester carbon on their behalf without necessarily reducing their own emissions. While this can be effective, especially when no further possible emission reduction pathways are available, this should be treated as a last resort rather than an attractive, ‘low-hanging fruit’ strategy. As consumers, we need to be discerning of these different pathways and recognize the efforts of the brands we associate with.
When it comes to achieving net-zero emissions, there are no shortcuts.