"Collective action is one of the biggest factors in our success"

Sensemaking / "Collective action is one of the biggest factors in our success"

Melanie Leech describes how shared ambitions and a collective approach across the UK food trade are cutting carbon emissions ahead of target.

By Melanie Leech / 01 Apr 2015

“We only have one planet. It’s a shared and precious resource that provides us with everything we need to survive and prosper. The Food and Drink Federation and its members are committed to making significant, collective reductions in their environmental impacts and playing a positive role in protecting the planet for future generations.” 

The Food and Drink Federation made this statement seven years ago at the launch of our Five-fold Environmental Ambition, publicly committing to work together and target five environmental areas where food and drink manufacturers can make the biggest difference. 

It was a bold announcement: no other food trade body had taken this collective approach to tackling sustainability priorities before. We set out targets to reduce CO2 emissions, water, food and packaging waste, and achieve fewer and friendlier food transport miles. We also committed to monitoring progress and publishing the results.

Today, we have proof that this collective, structured approach is working. Our members achieved our ambition to reduce CO2 emissions by 35% against a 1990 baseline a full six years ahead of target. We have significantly reduced water use and carbon intensity of freight operations and are on track to send zero food and packaging waste to landfill this year. 

I believe that one of the biggest factors in our success has been the power of collective action. Our ambitions are collectively owned and member driven. Different partners and best practice bodies support the delivery of each target. For example, our close working with WRAP under the Courtauld Commitment helps us progress towards our waste reduction and packaging optimisation targets.

As we near (or indeed, have already achieved) some of our initial targets, it’s imperative to look to the future. We have already started looking beyond our members’ processing operations to how we can address the sector’s environmental impact in supply chains and the way consumers use and dispose of what they buy.

Our wider aims now include extending our influence across the supply chain and encouraging the development of life-cycle thinking. We have launched guidance on supply chain water management, sustainable sourcing, and more recently sourcing of sustainable palm oil.

We accept that we have more work to do, but our efforts over the past seven years show that challenging goals can be met if they are clear and underpinned with a delivery plan backed up by top level commitment. Only through concerted effort can we go further to deliver an innovative, resilient and resource-efficient food and drink supply chain that can meet the challenges of world population growth, increased pressure on natural resources and the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

There are no unilateral solutions; everyone must play their part, from the public sector and civil society to businesses and individuals alike.

Melanie Leech was Director General, Food and Drink Federation, from 2005-2014. 

Image credit: epsos.de / Flickr

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