Retailers accounting for approximately 80% of the UK grocery market have joined forces with two environmental NGOs to standardise measurement and reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food and drink and to drive action to cut emissions.

The Retailer Net Zero CAP (Collaborative Action Programme) aims to support existing retailer pledges to achieve a 50% absolute reduction in food and drink emissions by 2030.

Household names Aldi, Co-Op, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose are collaborating with WRAP (Waste and Resource Action Programme) and WWF (World Wildlife Fund) on the initiative. The programme is described as an unprecedented precompetitive collaboration in the highly competitive retail grocery market.

Consistent approach

As it stands, there is no single approach to measuring the carbon footprint of food and drink products which these partners say results in confusion and inefficiencies across the sector. They note that the absence of a consistent methodology places an unrealistic burden on producers and suppliers in food supply chains, generates mistrust in environmental reporting data. It blocks meaningful action on reducing the impacts of our food system, according to the partners.

This programme builds on existing commitments retailers have made on nature and emissions under both WWF and WRAP initiatives. WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2030 target aims to achieve a 50% absolute reduction in GHG emissions associated with UK food and drink. It also focuses on waste surplus and water stewardship. A WRAP spokesperson acknowledged it is currently more advanced at measuring food waste than emissions.

WRAP created and launched a GHG protocol last year and this initiative aims to build on that. The first phase in 2023 involves ensuring consistent measurement and reporting of scope 3 (supply chain) emissions and piloting these with 17 businesses across the food supply chain.

The WRAP spokesperson acknowledged it is difficult to measure GHG emissions from farming. The programme has identified standards and needs to ensure the approach is consistent. The first phase also involves scoping high-impact areas for collaboration to accelerate progress on reducing GHGs from food sold in UK supermarkets. From 2024, phase two will take action on these high-impact opportunities, and the investments needed to collaborate and meet targets.

This UK initiative will inevitably affect Irish farmers and suppliers to the UK retail market.

The focus of this programme is scope 3 emissions, those that arise within the supply chain. In the case of food, this is largely farm-related emissions.

Retailers, food service businesses and food manufacturers are making specific timebound commitments on scope 3 emissions and other measures which essentially farmers have to deliver on. Most plcs are now bound by legislation to disclose their environmental and climate commitments. They are also accountable to investors to whom they have made commitments. These commitments align to their own corporate requirements, not territorial or governments’ targets.

While it’s welcome that retailers are striving for consistency and a common approach, it should be a concern that primary producers are not a lead partner in this initiative.

Rather than feeling the force of pressure down the supply chain, farming must reposition itself as the solution for large food and retail businesses. The big question remains how this can be monetised.

The alternative is that this may very quickly become simply the cost of doing business.