The findings of UN experts on the threat of climate change could act as a wake-up call for policymakers. However, it will be businesses that will need to make the biggest changes if we are to cut down on carbon emissions. So what does that mean for food and drink brands?
‘Code red for humanity.’
Code red is how the latest findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been described. The report, released last month, is the first major international review of the science behind climate change since 2013 and it does not make for light reading.
Apparently since 1970, global surface temperatures on Earth have risen faster than any other 50-year period over the last 2,000 years, creating many weather and climate extremes.
But it is not all bad news. With big cuts to the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted the scientists behind the report say these rising temperatures could be stabilised.
What does this mean for the food and beverage industry?
Those words are not only laying down the gauntlet to policymakers, but also to the industry. And few have a more impactful role to play in addressing climate change than food and drink. We all know the statistics. Food production is responsible for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon footprint of meat and dairy alone is thought to be more than all the cars and vans on the road combined.
Which is why, with the publication of the IPCC report, brands should expect the pressure on the food and drink industry to stop talking about change – and start taking action – to step up a gear.
The report’s pathways to reducing carbon explains the need for change across industries at an ‘unprecedented scale’. There will be ambitious targets across all sectors and a significant uptick in investment to support this.
What are some of the practical changes challenger brands might see as a result?
First, there will be a big push for more standardised definitions when it comes to describing your carbon footprint. In the UK only ‘carbon neutral’ is based on a shared standard of metrics, with lots of brands using the terms ‘carbon negative’ or ‘net zero’ in really different ways. This is likely to change going forward. In fact, in his recent National Food Strategy, Henry Dimbleby called for the creation of a new national food database, which would gather data from all businesses in the food supply chain and require the creation of new shared definitions on how carbon footprint is described.
This leads into the second big part of the plan, which is for more science-backed targets. With new shared definitions, more ambitious targets become easier to put in place and monitor. For brands with sustainability at their core though, there is no need to wait for policymakers to make these mandatory targets.
Set yourself and your brand apart by making the first move. Make sure that you are totally transparent on how you are achieving reductions and provide regular updates on the progress you are making, even if you fall behind. Consumers appreciate honesty.
Which brings us to the third point. Do not expect to get away with greenwashing any longer. The IPCC report has heightened awareness even further but regulators like the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have already clearly signalled their intention to clampdown on misleading green claims. That includes false claims, but also those that are too vague, too confusing or those that do not provide plenty of data to back them up. This is a complex area so make sure you seek out expert advice before adding any carbon claims to packaging or marketing.
Lastly, for smart brands the IPCC report will not act as a wake-up call. Many challenger brands already enjoy a great dialogue with their consumers and they know how important sustainability is for many of them. They often lead on transparency, speaking out on issues that affect the planet and pushing for wider change in the industry.
For those brands the IPCC report should act as validation for everything they are doing, motivation to keep going and another excuse to shout about their hard work to customers.
Tip: Why not share the report on your social media channels, summarise its findings on your website and talk about the work you are doing as a brand to make a difference?