Feeling green: Food firms urged to get emotional over sustainability
Using "emotional drivers" and financial incentives is the quickest way to spark corporate interest in sustainability initiatives, leading food industry experts have claimed.
Speaking at the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) annual Sustainability Convention this week, sustainability representatives from Tesco, McCain Foods and McDonald's discussed how supply chain collaborations are driving a behavioural shift in the way businesses view climate change.
Tesco’s director of group corporate responsibility Josh Hardie said: “There are only two drivers for sustainable change - you have the emotional drivers; the people within businesses who inherently care and have an emotional desire to make something happen - and then there are the commercial drivers for those who want to understand what climate means for their business.
“When you manage to combine them together, you really start to see change. But the difference between acting on these drivers and inaction is hundreds of millions of pounds.”
As recently highlighted by the popularity of the BBC One series Hugh’s War on Waste, retailers are under increased pressure to deliver on sustainable targets. As an industry leader in sustainability, Hardie explained that Tesco now views its basic sustainable targets on carbon and waste reductions as "mundane" and instead looks to channel new innovations to drive its sustainability.
Tesco has already launched a collaborative buying club to help suppliers invest in energy efficient lighting equipment and installations, while the retailer has also agreed to turn surplus food waste into 70 million meals for charities.
Hardie's sentiments were echoed by McCain Foods regional chief executive Nick Vermont, who also works as an FDF chair tasked with updating the annual sustainable goals for the organisation. Vermont said: “There are opportunities out there for businesses to totally engage and to do right for the environment, consumers and employees.
“But it’s no good two or three companies doing great things if we can’t take the vast majority of the UK based food manufacturing sector with us. We will make sure the food industry continues to take a leading role in the fight against climate change.”
According to WRAP, if food waste was measured as a country it would be the third biggest emitter of emissions in the world, behind the US and China. McDonald’s director of supply chain Connor McVeigh believes that working with suppliers to ensure perishable goods are produced in bulk in a sustainable fashion is therefore one of the key barriers that the food industry needs to overcome.
“Partnerships are absolutely fundamentally for the way we work across so many fronts," McVeigh said. "It’s the three legged stool, where each leg represents the business, suppliers and customers and franchises, you can’t stand up unless all three legs are pulling their weight equally.”
McVeigh noted that much of the supply chain would "roll their eyes" at talks of carbon footprints, yet if a company can offer them financial incentives, then sustainability is introduced as a bi-product. This is notable in McDonald’s recent announcement that it is now sourcing all of its Europe based packaging from chain-of-custody certified wood fibre, a partnership that creates financial security in the supply chain.
Also speaking at the event was DECC's deputy director of industrial energy use Paul van Heyningen, who admitted that businesses are operating in a ‘complex’ green policy environment, and that financial incentives may be introduced to help ease simplicity. Meanwhile, FDF's director general Ian Wright warned that the UK was entering "uncharted territory" in terms of energy and climate policy, due to a Conservative Government that has "a very different agenda than that of the coalition".