Three ways to tackle climate change in FMCG supply chains

A year ago, political leaders, diplomats and scientists sealed the Paris Climate Agreement, a landmark in environmental history. While few would argue that the agreement is perfect, it did seem that we were finally driving international action on cutting carbon emissions, securing the involvement of the most important developing economies. However, there are now concerns that the US might pull out of the settlement.

Three ways to tackle climate change in FMCG supply chains

Let us be clear: man-made climate change is real and poses a significant threat to people and businesses. The Consumer Goods Forum is committed to tackling climate change and to supporting the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. We believe that abiding by its stipulations will be crucial in the battle against environmental degradation.

But while government and policy initiatives are undoubtedly crucial, the private sector also has a vital role to play. And we think that the consumer industry in particular must lead the way in environmental sustainability, as in many other areas of positive change. There is already a strong business case for the industry to act. Research data suggest that consumers – especially Millennials and Generation Z – trust businesses that are actively driving positive change and prefer to buy from them. And talented employees prefer to work for them. In addition, on at least three environmental issues – deforestation, food waste and HFC refrigerants – the consumer industry can have a disproportionately big impact given our footprint. Environmental sustainability should be high on the agenda in consumer industry boardrooms across the world.

That’s why on the anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, we are reaffirming our commitment to its core tenets and reminding our members of three of the CGF’s Resolutions. First, our Deforestation Resolution spells out our ambition to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020 through the sustainable sourcing of key commodities. We recognise the devastating impact deforestation has on local habitats and its contribution to global climate change, accounting for 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions. It is a major environmental threat.

Second, we recognise that HFC refrigerants contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, and are committed to their removal from supply chains. They should be replaced with natural and ultra-low GWP (global warming potential) refrigerants, which are more environmentally-friendly. Our HFC Resolution, which outlines our plans for phasing these out, is particularly important, because these gases are expected to represent 6-9% of total emissions by 2050. We also recognise this as one of the most cost-effective climate mitigation strategies available in the world today.

Third, we believe in tackling food waste, which is directly responsible for emitting 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. Our recent call to action on food labelling standardisation can eliminate confusion over expiration dates and ensure goods aren’t thrown out when perfectly suitable for consumption. Through these initiatives, we can meet the targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, reducing per capita food waste by 50%.

Businesses can’t overcome the complexities of climate change by themselves, however. Engagement with governments, NGOs and activist bodies will also be crucial. That’s why The Consumer Goods Forum is collaborating with the Tropical Forest Alliance, the Banking Environment Initiative, Champions 12.3 and others to accelerate progress on deforestation and food waste.

We’re lucky enough to be uniquely placed for driving action on climate change and creating a better world for consumers and businesses. We’re able to bring leaders from across the consumer goods industry together to discuss the best approaches to tackling climate change and sustainability issues. While the environmental challenges are enormous, we’re optimistic about the power of shared initiatives between governments, the private sector and civil society, and we will continue to support our members in understanding the challenges, overcoming them and implementing the commitments. 

Peter Freedman is managing director at The Consumer Goods Forum

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