Why I’m worried about climate change: views from the UK’s food industry

Sensemaking / Why I’m worried about climate change: views from the UK’s food industry

Four industry insiders share their perspectives on the risks facing the UK’s food supply chain, emphasising the need for collaborative action – and clear incentives for business.

By Marita Upeniece / 30 Oct 2015

What risks does the UK food and drink industry face from climate change? What meaningful action is underway, and what more needs to be done?

Four experts share their views – calling for a cohesive vision and collaboration – ahead of the Food and Drink Federation’s Can You Tackle the Climate Change Challenge? event.

Richard Clothier, Managing Director of Wyke Farms:

“I am most concerned about the changing of weather patterns. In recent winters, up to half of Somerset was under water for many months due to flooding. When we get rain, it is heavier and runs off the land rather than soaking in, raising concerns for water table levels and the prospect of drought. Farming relies on a stable ecosystem; climate change will disrupt this at all levels and affect the supply of food. If we don’t preserve our environment, we jeopardise our food, our income and our home.

“It’s about taking responsibility: no one else is going to do this for us. We all have to do our bit. We have a sustainability mission called ‘Wyke Farms 100% Green’, which encompasses a commitment to operate in a ‘green’ and sustainable way at all levels of the business. As part of this, we are reducing our carbon output by 20 million kilos of CO2 per year by producing all of our own energy from renewable sources [biogas and solar]. We are also recovering up to 90% of water through membranes to reduce the amount of water that we draw from borehole and reduce our discharges to local water courses.  

“I think action on climate change is hindered by a lack of cohesive vision in the sector. We have many global brands operating in our market with vastly differing approaches to climate change. The UK retailers are doing good work to address climate change through their own actions, but there is not enough awareness of this mission when it reaches the trading floor. It is too easy for buyers to take short-term supply decisions, which may undermine the good work being done in the wider business. Only when sustainability is given equal priority to other commercial drivers will real progress be made.

“I would like to see UK farmers given incentives to become part of the renewable energy solution going forward. Farmers have many of the natural assets to help to create a low carbon economy. For instance, they have south-facing roofs suitable for solar; many of their organic waste streams are suitable for anaerobic digestion and so they could be encouraged to use more ‘digestate natural fertilisers’, instead of artificial fertilisers which are bad for the environment. Many businesses have these natural assets: why not incentivise them to harness them and drive efficiency and a more robust manufacturing sector at the same time?”

Connor McVeigh, Director of Supply Chain at McDonald’s UK:

“There are many climate change risks, but the one which I feel most passionately about is the challenge which extreme weather conditions is posing to the farming community. An excessively wet winter can have a profound and long-term effect on farmers’ business and families – and, in turn, the assured supply we rely on. Which is why we at McDonald’s UK have been working in partnership with our suppliers to identify effective solutions that can reduce the impact they feel, whilst at the same time challenging every aspect of our supply chain to review how they can reduce the impact their businesses have on the environment.

“Collaboration is a fundamental part of our supply chain ethos, and it is this collaborative approach that has enabled us to go further and faster on projects than if we’d attempted to do things in isolation. For example, we’ve been working closely for some time with our two key potato suppliers to identify ways of limiting the impact of extreme weather on their potato harvest. As a result, we have just announced three key moves: a commitment to sourcing 100% British potatoes for all our French Fries, to provide reassurance to our 190 growers; the development of a sustainable potato group to share knowledge and best practice among the community; and an extension to our Progressive Young Farmer programme, to include a crop-based placement to address the need for new entrants.

“Sometimes what is hindering collaboration on climate change issues is as simple as a lack of understanding. We’ve learned that we need to adapt our behaviour and communication dependent on the situation. For example, for over six years we’ve been working with Alltech-ECO2 to develop a first-of-its-kind tool to help farmers assess their carbon emissions and identify ways to reduce their impact. Initially, we focussed our conversations around carbon, but it was clear that this wasn’t resonating with the farmers, so we worked to develop our tool further to convert the carbon reduction percentage into a figure on the bank balance, helping them to realise that carbon efficient farming equates to financially efficient farming, which really resonated with the farmers. Andy Foot, a beef farmer from Dorset found that he could realise a saving in excess of £9,000 per year by making small changes, which in turn reduced his carbon footprint significantly.

“What is clear to me is that by committing to individual farmers and suppliers in the long term, we can create a context whereby all parties work collaboratively to identify the risks and create an environment where each has the confidence to invest in the right solutions.”

Ryan McNeill, Resource Efficiency Lead at Nestlé UK & Ireland:

“Based on available evidence, the food and agriculture sectors will be among those most affected by climate change. Through our responsible sourcing strategy, we at Nestlé are working to adapt our global supply chains. In the UK specifically, Nestlé is actively working with suppliers to improve the environmental impact of local milk supply [for instance, by reducing emissions and enhancing biodiversity].

"We have become a signatory for the Carbon Disclosure Project, and (amongst other targets) have committed to a policy on 100% renewable electricity. We also report transparently on the progress made on our commitments to address climate change and will continue to provide updates in our Nestlé in Society Creating Shared Value report.

“In addition to addressing the challenges of climate change along our entire value chain, we are committed to leading industry efforts in this area. We are actively contributing to multi-stakeholder efforts and global dialogue on climate change because meaningful progress can only be achieved through commitment to action by government and industry, in consultation with civil society.

"Climate change initiatives require broad-based commitment and multi-stakeholder effort. The agenda is not one we can address in isolation: common responses and pre-competitive collaboration both internally and externally to the sector will be essential.

“We would like to build a long-term, ambitious UK renewable energy strategy, but the uncertain landscape surrounding government energy policy can have a damaging effect on confidence in meeting this challenge. I would most like to see the renewable energy sector and government help industry find novel, business-centric ways to adopt cleaner energy solutions.”

Hugh Jones, Managing Director, Advisory at the Carbon Trust:

“The climate change risks I’m most concerned about are food and water security and the long-term viability of agriculture and biodiversity in particularly vulnerable regions. To confront these risks, the Carbon Trust is working to measure, understand and communicate both risks and solutions. The key enabler for collaboration on climate change issues in food supply chains is a clear business case for action. On the other hand, insufficient transparency over issues and impacts hinders collaborative action. One key action food business can undertake to mitigate climate change risks is to factor risks and impacts into decision making and, where appropriate, into prices.”

Richard Clothier, Connor McVeigh, Ryan McNeill and Hugh Jones will be amongst the speakers at FDF’s Can You Tackle the Climate Change Challenge event on 10 November 2015, sponsored by Kelda Water, DNV-GL and SWR.  

Food and Drink Federation is a Forum for the Future partner.

Image credit: Christian Guthier / flickr

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