UK’s biggest restaurants and brewers pledge net-zero operations by 2030, value chains by 2040

The roadmap was launched at an event in London (pictured)

The Zero Carbon Forum was launched late last year with the support of trade associations UK Hospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association. It promised to create a roadmap to net-zero for the sector by autumn 2021, with a deadline more ambitious than the UK’s legally binding 2050 ambition.

The forum has this week published the roadmap, which will require businesses to reach net-zero for their Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (power-related) emissions by 2030, and net-zero for their Scope 3 (indirect) emissions by 2040. Scope 3 emissions notably account for 60% of the sector’s overall carbon footprint.

The roadmap supports businesses to prioritise decarbonisation over offsetting. It states that, by 2040, participating businesses should reduce operational (Scope 1 and 2) emissions by 90%. The reduction should be 57-78% for Scope 3 emissions by this time, with the reduction level likely to depend on each business’s context; breweries have different setups than, for example, quick-service restaurants. These targets are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory, according to roadmap development supporter Carbon Intelligence.  

In total, 12 businesses have signed up to the forum and pledged to follow the roadmap so far. They are Adnams, Azzuri Group, Brewdog, Burger King UK, Fuller’s, KFC UK & Ireland, Marston’s, Mitchells & Butlers, Nando’s UK & Ireland, Pizza Hut Restaurants UK, Revolution Bars and The Restaurant Group, which owns brands such as Frankie & Benny’s and Wagamama. 

Additional businesses are expected to be announced as forum members in the coming weeks. Also, for SMEs that may not wish to join the forum, a toolkit for aligning with the roadmap will be open-sourced.

Collaborative approach

Speaking at an event in London to launch the roadmap, the Zero Carbon Forum’s sustainability lead Kristen Filice said member businesses will all achieve net-zero at different speeds, but will likely deliver decarbonisation more rapidly through collaboration than they would have alone. She outlined four key opportunities from collaboration: speeding up decarbonisation, data-sharing, engaging stakeholders, accelerating innovation.

UK Hospitality’s chief executive Kate Nicholls stated that “Covid-19 has made what was already a collaborative sector being even more collaborative”.  Despite the financial and staffing challenges at present, Nicholls explained, the sector sees climate action as “an important part of resilience-building going forward”, particularly in terms of energy bills and supply chain security.

After measuring baseline emissions data and working with Carbon Intelligence, the forum members collaboratively identified four topics for priority workstreams, covering emissions hotspots and harder-to-abate parts of the value chain.

They are renewable energy, buildings, transport, food and beverages, other sourcing and carbon removals.

Action on renewable energy will be a priority for forum members. All members are striving to switch to 100% renewable electricity this decade. Since the forum launched, it has doubled the number of members buying 100% renewable energy. Energy efficiency is another priority in the short term, with an initiative designed to help businesses switch off technology overnight already saving businesses up to £4,900 on their annual energy bills per outlet.

Engaging consumers

Much of the conversation at the launch event centred around how businesses in the hospitality sector can engage the general public with the topic of net-zero – specifically, about how businesses can make people feel like the necessary behaviour changes are accessible and will make a positive impact on their lifestyles.

Pizza Hut UK’s chief executive Jens Hofma described the relationship between hospitality businesses and consumers as “intimate”, arguing that the sector  “can play a massive role in opening the minds of consumers to different ways of eating…  we know that people are more adventurous in a restaurant than they are in their own kitchens”.

Hofma emphasised the importance of ensuring that customers are enabled, rather than patronised, as people “fundamentally still visit restaurants for their pleasure”. “Deliciousness and craveability”, he said, may well be prioritised over sustainability for many.

Adnams’ chief executive Andy Wood agreed, stating that businesses should avoid bringing eco-anxiety to the drinking and dining experience and causing what he called “distress purchases”. Wood said the wider sector could learn much from the coffee-to-go space, which has made plant-based milk alternatives more widely available.

The panel was specifically asked how the net-zero transition would affect menu items and pricing. Speakers agreed on the need for more plant-based items and other low-carbon alternatives, but argued that choice addition is favourable to full-on choice editing.

Burger King’s chief financial officer Tim Doubleday spoke of how the chain has transitioned from having no plant-based main menu items to these options accounting for 10% of main menu options within a year, stating that the business is “very much looking at how we manage our menu” and is “seeing more of that level of focus across the sector”.

To the question of cost, Doubleday admitted that many plant-based proteins are more expensive at present than meat, for a business of Burger King’s scale.  But, he said, some actions to accelerate decarbonisation, including improving energy efficiency, will bring cost savings in the near term. “The question, then, is how you reinvest those cost savings, because things tend to get more expensive as you move up the scale [towards 2040],” he stated, adding that the Government could help SMEs bolster these savings.

Pizza Hut UK’s Hofma said “it would be an illusion to think that industry will absorb any and all costs” of the net-zero transition, considering it already operates on low margins and faces high VAT rates. “In the end, we either have to find more cost-effective solutions, pass some of the cost on to the consumer, or support needs to be provided by the Government through a much fairer taxation system”.

Revolution Bars’ chief executive Rob Pitcher added: “There are undoubtedly extra costs and it’s up to us to shoulder some, in order that we can share experimentation results openly.” The forum, Pitcher said, will help prevent cost duplication and help prevent SMEs from needing to take major financial risks through knowledge-sharing.

Sarah George

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