Scope 3: how food companies are tackling the final frontier

Scope three accounts for around 88% of a food retailer’s emissions
M&S Food’s Sustainability Head Lucinda Langton says Scope 3 is the biggest challenge in the race to net zero – but a new unified standard could change that

When it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions, three is the magic number.

It is also the number causing the biggest headaches for the food industry in reducing its environmental impact.

As Lucinda Langton, Head of Sustainability at M&S Food, puts it – Scope three greenhouse gas emissions is “the single biggest challenge we all face in terms of carbon reduction”.

Referring to all indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain, Scope three accounts for around 88% of a food retailer’s emissions.

“The retail industry is committed to reaching Net Zero by 2040 but this will only be possible through meaningful change in Scope 3 emissions,” says Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

But calculating Scope three emissions throughout the value chain is problematic.

Measuring scope three a challenge, as no standard

Typically, food retailers hold many brands, with thousands of products delivered by more than 10,000 individual suppliers. Each supplier sources its ingredients from its own supplier base, adding to the complexity of working out the total emissions linked to a single item.

And while more companies are measuring the carbon footprint of food and drink products and providing disclosure on these emissions – accuracy, consistency, and trust around the process is lacking as there is no standardised approach.

The two main hurdles are a lack of robust environmental data from supply chains and a clear understanding of how product level footprinting is conducted and reported across the chain. 

And while the government had planned a mandatory system of Scope three emission reporting for all major food companies, and this was expected to be launched at COP28, it failed to materialise.

So now, the UK’s leading food companies are taking the issue of Scope three into their own hands – forming a coalition to establish a standard for product carbon foot-printing in the industry.

Introducing the BRC Mondra Coalition

The BRC Mondra Coalition brings food retailers and suppliers together under a single unified industry approach to monitor, improve and communicate the environmental performance of products.

The coalition taps related initiatives launched earlier this year by WRAP, IGD and WWF-UK to define the ruleset for product lifecycle assessment, from ‘farm to fork’.

Brand owners and their suppliers can then choose to use this ruleset to build environmental performance into their product and category plans and make data-driven decisions that move them in the right direction.

“By working together in a pre-competitive way to develop product level sustainability data, we can accelerate decarbonisation, and help meet our goal of reaching Net Zero across our whole footprint by 2050,” says Giles Bolton, Tesco's Group Sustainability Director.

The result is a best-in-class measurement designed to improve understanding of product impacts.

The platform provides a best-in-class measurement designed to improve understanding of product impacts

AI-driven technology to reduce impacts

This standardised meaurement is possible thanks to AI-driven technology from Mondra, a product footprinting and supply chain decarbonisation SaaS platform that leverages AI to create digital twins of food supply chains and provide the tools to engage supply chain actors to collaborate to net zero.

Put simply, it allows brand owners and suppliers to run LCAs on thousands of products in a matter of hours, prioritise action, and each engage their suppliers in a meaningful way to reduce impacts.

Mondra integrates with existing commercial retailer systems, notably those provided by global tech giant, Oracle, ensuring a seamless relationship between business operations and carbon accounting. 

Our ambition is to establish the digital infrastructure for future food systems, enabling brand owners and their suppliers to measure and improve the environmental performance of their products – doing so collaboratively through the chain,” says Jason Barrett, CEO of Mondra. “It’s this approach to collaborative decarbonisation, underpinned by a common standard to drive competition, that will accelerate the pace of change to Net Zero.”

Game-changer for food retailers – and suppliers

Described as a “game-changer” for grocery retailers and their suppliers, Karen Fisher, Senior Environmental Manager at Co-op says such a platform will help “alleviate the challenge around collecting data from our supply chains while driving real change in carbon reduction”.

Trialling the new technology platform, Sainsbury’s is committed to becoming net zero in its Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – and hopeful such a collaboration can bring about “meaningful change” including being able to offer customers more sustainable choice,” says Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Ruth Cranston.

Sainsbury's is among the grocery retailers trialling the new technology platform

Co-op and Sainsbury’s join other big-name grocery retailers including Tesco, M&S Food, Ocado Retail, ASDA, Lidl and Sainsbury’s in tapping Mondra’s automated technology, along with suppliers including Avara, Samworth Brothers, Greencore, Bakkavor, Pilgrims UK, Dunbia and Cranswick.

In taking its carbon footprint data to a product level, whether a product for a retailer or for food service, supplier Avara Foods believes the accuracy and greater level of detail provides an opportunity “to work with our customers on benchmarking our performance and identifying significant reductions in line with our shared science-based targets and net-zero commitment”.

Foodservice brands can also benefit, with Starbucks and Nando’s both signing up in a bid to help reduce the carbon footprint of their offerings.

Jacqui Wetherly, Director of Sustainability, Starbucks says: “Working collaboratively with this coalition on carbon footprinting solutions will help us to make continuous improvements throughout our supply chains, forming new standards and tools across the industry that means we can better serve our customers and ultimately, reduce our scope three emissions. 

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