Net-zero pubs and bars scheme to help UK sector accelerate climate action amid Covid-19 recovery

Pictured: Panellists at the initiative's launch event at The Culpeper

Convened by Net-Zero Now, the Net-Zero Pubs and Bars Initiative has been launched today (20 July) following a pilot at 36 sites across the UK. It is being delivered in association with beverage supplier giants Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) and Pernod Ricard.

Of the managers of the 36 pilot sites, 85% said they needed more help and guidance in accelerating decarbonisation and then dealing with residual emissions in line with net-zero – particularly in light of the financial squeeze facing the UK’s hospitality sector post-lockdown.

With that in mind, the initiative offers a digital platform enabling pubs and bars to calculate their emissions, set ambitious reduction targets and develop tailored plans for delivery. From there, businesses can seek certification. Net Zero Now will charge pubs and bars £490 per site, per year, for this service.

Speaking about the business case for participating in the Initiative at the launch event, held at The Culpeper in Shoreditch, Net-Zero Now’s chief executive Simon Heppner said: “One of the things we’ve learned is this is a sector with a big impact and small margins. If we could have chosen a more difficult sector, I don’t know what that would be. This is a sector where the climate impact is big and so the potential conversion cost is high and margins are low. Going net-zero will be really hard for this sector [compared to, for example, offices].

“I’m not trying to say it won’t be done… it’s incredibly resonant and powerful and people want to do it. That’s why working with partners is so important; it allows us to have that ongoing conversation and that reach across the sector… and, potentially, to provide the motivation – I choose that word carefully.

“[Transitioning to net-zero] has got to be the only sensible commercial decision and, without the Government leading on that through subsidies and taxes, we’re looking to industry leaders.”

Panellists joined Heppner in emphasising that many of the actions recommended by the Initiative are either cost-neutral or cost-saving. For example, only one-quarter of the pilot locations had switched to a renewable electricity tariff prior to participating, while none were routinely switching off fridges used to house wines overnight. Other recommended actions include switching to LED lighting and turning down thermostats.

Moreover, beyond the reduction piece, Net Zero Now has estimated that the cost of offsetting residual and lifetime emissions will only be around 1-7p per cover, while pilot participants had expected the price range to be 50p to £5. Offsets are curated and will support UK-based projects involving sustainable agriculture, reforestation and improving soil carbon sequestration – “things the sector cares about”, according to Heppner.

CCEP’s head of climate and sustainability Nick Brown added: “We really see our role as getting some of those messages out there…. That [the process is] probably not as expensive or cumbersome as you may imagine, and whatever you can do now will put you in a better position for continuing to engage with policy changes and changes in customer expectations in the next few years.”

Additionally floated was the idea that setting a net-zero commitment could help pubs hire and retain staff, with the notion that under-30s are becoming increasingly sustainability-minded. According to the Office for National Statistics, some 100,000 vacancies were posted in the sector between April and June. 

Food for thought

This isn’t to say that pubs and bars will not need to take actions that will prove more time-consuming and expensive. For instance, food-led pubs report that 70% of their overall emissions footprint is associated with food, chiefly through embedded carbon and from cooking using gas.

However, the Initiative will encourage pubs and bars to choose when and how they will make more major investments or changes to processes and supply chains, the panel explained at the launch event.

“Given the state that everyone’s in post-pandemic… you might look at the action plan and say you can only tackle the cost-saving steps in the next six months,” summarised the Sustainable Restaurants Association’s (SRA) managing director Juliane Caillouette Noble.

Moreover, it was emphasised that pubs and bars should continue to champion choice for the consumer and to engage visitors with the net-zero transition. One move, for example, that could reduce a site’s annual emissions footprint by more than 19 tonnes, would be switching half of the dairy products to alternatives.

Broader engagement

As the launch event continued, conversation turned to the importance of engaging the pubs and bars sectors on net-zero at this unique moment in time, with COP26 less than four months away and with the challenge of financially recovering from Covid-19 being front of mind.

The SRA’s Noble described hospitality as a “showcase sector”, where conversations with a “doom and gloom message” on the environment could be changed, showcasing the co-benefits to staff, consumers and the local community.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s net-zero business engagement lead Catherine Westoby added:  “It’s absolutely crucial that we get small businesses on board – especially ahead of COP26.

“Small businesses comprise more than 99% of all UK businesses and we absolutely can’t have business engagement which does not bring them on board… SMEs are embedded in local communities, on local high streets, with enormous consumer influence. There is the ability for this campaign to reach far and wide.”

Net-Zero Now’s Heppner agreed. He also emphasised the intention of inspiring the development of similar initiatives for other sectors and of initiatives for pubs and bars in other countries, calling COP26 a “shop window” for promotion.

The launch of the initiative comes after trade associations UK Hospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association launched the Zero Carbon Forum late last year. The Forum is convening restaurants, food-to-go outlets, pubs, bars and cafes to develop a roadmap to net-zero. Members include Shepherd Neame, Marston’s, Greene King and Young’s. 

Sarah George 

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