How food manufacturers can tackle Scope 3 emissions

While tackling Scope 3 emissions may not be easy, the right guidance and tools can help food producers complete their decarbonisation and sustainability journey.

By Agatha Wong

At COP28, the global heads of state and governments released a resolute declaration regarding the current food system and its place in creating a sustainable future amidst a call for stronger climate action. They emphasised the “unprecedented adverse climate impacts are increasingly threatening the resilience of agriculture and food systems as well as the ability of many, especially the most vulnerable, to produce and access food in the face of mounting hunger, malnutrition, and economic stresses”.

Indeed, the food industry faces the double-edged challenge of being one of largest contributors to the climate crisis – from its production stage with agriculture and animal farming, to processing and transportation, and eventually food waste in landfills – as well as bearing a significant impact from climate change, with rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns threatening annual harvests and food stability.

For many years, food and beverage producers have undertaken measures curbing Scope 1 and 2 emissions – the former covers emissions from sources that an organisation owns or controls directly, while the latter encompasses emissions that are caused indirectly by companies and come from where the energy it purchases and uses is produced. For most part, these measures have been relatively successful and well-implemented, with many MNCs claiming to have reduced their carbon footprint and energy use. What remains, however, are Scope 3 emissions, which includes all other indirect emissions that occur in the upstream and downstream activities of an organisation.

“When you talk about trying to engage back through the traders to the farm level, the ability to influence farming practices – which have to be location and context specific, and drive security of income for farmers and security of global procurement production – we have to create more stability in those investments to allow farmers the opportunity to plan these transitions. Because agricultural investments change the farm funnel and the types of practices that it takes to both improve their resilience, manage their transition and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it takes time and a bit of courage and stamina in the system as well,” said Diane Holdorf, vice-president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), when asked on the obstacles and challenges preventing food producers from disclosing and addressing Scope 3 emissions in their value chain.

Managing these transitions plans, Holdorf elaborated, will require the consideration of how one engages with farmers, and what one does to incentivise and reward in value-added ways for nature, diversity – in turn delivering real livelihood benefits for farmers. Another challenge would be acquiring primary source data, as well as quality secondary source data from agriculture in a globally consistent and credible way from farmers at a regional level that does not burden them. This data will enable greater accountability, although, as Holdorf noted, the ability to track and use said data across an often complex and integrated supply chain is a challenge that the industry will have to navigate.

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