KFC and Pilgrim’s target net-zero by 2040

KFC UK & Ireland has announced a new commitment to reach net-zero ten years ahead of the legal deadline of 2050, in the same week that meat giant Pilgrim's announced a global net-zero target, also for 2040.

KFC and Pilgrim’s target net-zero by 2040

Live emissions and energy data from the net-zero pilot restaurant will be used to inform a roadmap to decarbonisation across the KFC UK&I estate

KFC UK & Ireland’s new target forms part of an updated climate action strategy published today (8 July). This comes after parent company Yum! Set a 1.5C-aligned science-based target to reduce absolute direct emissions by 46% by 2030, against a 2019 baseline.  

As a first step towards reaching net-zero, the fast-food giant will pilot its first net-zero restaurant as part of a collaborative initiative with the University of Liverpool’s Zero Carbon Research Institute. The initiative will assess the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the construction materials and processes currently being used to build new restaurants and refurbish existing locations, before exploring lower-carbon alternatives that will reduce embodied carbon.

As for the carbon generated through restaurant operations, the net-zero restaurant will provide a case study of how other locations can procure renewable energy, improve energy efficiency and implement low-carbon technologies. In this way, Scope 1 (direct) and 2 (power-related) emissions can be reduced. Live data on emissions and energy use from restaurant operations will be captured to help build and validate a computer simulation, from which decarbonisation solutions will be identified.

Acknowledging that many of KFC UK&I’s restaurants will differ from the pilot location, researchers at the University of Liverpool, led by Dr Stephen Finnegan, will build 3D models of other restaurant types across the estate.  

Residual emissions from the pilot location will be addressed using carbon offsetting and removal. KFC said in a statement that it will only use “credible” offsetting schemes as a “supportive mechanism”, with a “primary focus on carbon reduction”. As for removal, the business has stated that it is open to using man-made and/or nature-based solutions as it works to make all restaurants net-zero.

Spotlight on Scope 3

When asked whether the new climate action strategy will cover Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, a KFC spokesperson said that emissions associated with waste management will be covered, but the results of the net-zero restaurant trial will be used to determine which other sources of emissions should be accounted for and how. Embodied carbon from building materials will likely be a key focus, as outlined.

The spokesperson said: “As a global brand, we recognise that whilst we have a large direct carbon footprint to tackle, we mustn’t underestimate the indirect either. This study focuses primarily on tackling our direct footprint head-on but we’re also investigating all angles where we can.”

Even for areas of emissions that may be excluded from accounting, they added, suppliers will be engaged and supported on their own decarbonisation journeys.

Aside from the University of Liverpool, KFC UK&I is collaborating with more than a dozen other food and drinks businesses through the Zero Carbon Forum, which was set up late last year to develop a pathway to net-zero for the UK’s hospitality sector.  It has also signed up to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) new climate action roadmap, designed to transition the sector to net-zero by 2040.

KFC UK&I’s managing director Paula MacKenzie said: “It’s incumbent on us all to address the climate emergency and combat the long- and short-term effects of global warming on the environment and on people. Anything short of that will lead to failure, and I passionately believe that we cannot address the urgent action that’s needed in the world today without businesses pulling their weight and playing their part. 

The Zero Carbon Forum’s founder and chief executive Mark Chapman added:  “It is only through innovative partnerships and acknowledging the need to change that businesses can hope to make progress on their journey towards net-zero – and this is exactly what KFC is doing. Through this collaborative approach, KFC UK&I will undoubtedly reach its stretching sustainability targets and we look forward to working with them over the coming weeks, months and years.”


In related news, global food company Pilgrim’s, perhaps best known for its chicken products in the US and Mexico and pork products in the UK, has set a global net-zero goal for 2040, with a more ambitious deadline of 2035 for its UK business.

The announcement came shortly after JBS, which owns a majority stake in the business, outlined its own commitment to reach net-zero by 2040. JBS has interim ambitions to reduce the intensity of Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 30% by 2030, against a 2019 baseline. This is not a verified science-based target, but JBS is working with the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to develop 1.5C-aligned goals. Pilgrim’s will be following suit.

JBS has supported its overarching climate target with an initial  $100m investment into research projects that will enable regenerative farming practices, including carbon sequestration and on-farm emission mitigation technologies, to be followed by a further $1bn of financing for emissions reductions products over the next 10 years.

While detail on how Pilgrim’s will reach net-zero globally is fairly scarce at present, given that it is largely following JBS’s lead, the business has outlined further detail on transitioning to net-zero in the UK, as Pilgrim’s UK updated its sustainability strategy last autumn. That strategy details commitments to reach 100% renewable energy for manufacturing sites this decade; switch to 100% certified deforestation-free soya for animal feed by 2025; transition to the lowest-carbon packaging formats available and use credible carbon offsetting.

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Ian Byrne says:

    Two of the most interesting Scope 3 sources of emissions are excluded: customers driving to a drive-thru and emissions associated with food served, notably poultry. Arguably if KFC (or its rivals) didn’t offer tempting fast food, customers wouldn’t drive to get their meal but would prepare it at home, and would most likely have a lower meat consumption. This is a lot deeper than KFC can be expected to solve, as it relates to the whole structure of how Western (and Chinese!) society live now. But equally, to claim zero while creating the environment for customers to generate marginal emission is a little misleading.

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