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Companies cannot credibly address climate risk without disclosing and reducing their supply chain emissions. Through Food Emissions 50, investors are issuing an urgent call to action for companies to raise their ambition to disclose emissions, set targets and implement climate-transition action plans.
of 50 of the highest-emitting North American food companies found that most
are not measuring and disclosing supply chain emissions, never mind including
them in their targets. 70 percent do not disclose emissions from
and over 80 percent do not disclose emissions from land-use change. Over 60
percent do not disclose any scope 3 supply chain emissions.
With more companies rolling out net-zero
it is time for businesses to show how they plan to deliver on these goals. Amid
of how seriously companies are taking these commitments, investors are looking
for evidence that companies have credible plans and science-based
to reduce their emissions in the near term, alongside long-term net-zero
Few sectors need to do more to address how they are driving climate change than
the food industry. The food we eat is responsible for about a third of global
greenhouse gas emissions.
Ambitious commitments from big name companies such as
have grabbed headlines and boosted public confidence in the ability of food
companies to confront this problem at scale.
Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the food sector has a long way to go to
measure, assess and reduce the impacts of its supply chain emissions. Even as
science-based greenhouse gas-reduction commitments have become a new standard
for food companies, many of these commitments are limited: They do not seek to
measure or reduce the companies’ supply chain — or scope
(indirect) — emissions, especially those from agricultural production or those
associated with land-use
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Supply chain emissions are the Achilles’ heel of food-sector climate action. The
majority of the sector’s emissions are embedded in the production of key
agricultural commodities and fall under scope 3 emissions from the supply chain
for companies that source, manufacture, distribute and sell agricultural or food
Digging down into the benchmark provides telling details about subsectors in the
food industry. For instance, out of the 17 food staples and retailing companies,
including Walmart and Costco, not one discloses their scope 3 emissions
from agriculture. And large meat companies such as Hormel and Tyson do
not disclose their scope 3 emissions at all.
This data is particularly stunning, given just how high the proportion of supply
chain emissions is for companies that did disclose. Coffee giant Starbucks
disclosed that a stunning 96 percent of its emissions are from scope 3, with
chocolate companies Mondelez and
Hershey both claiming 94
This is why companies cannot credibly address climate risk without disclosing
and reducing their supply chain emissions. In the past, companies have been able
to sidestep the pressure to address supply chain emissions due to lack of
consensus on accounting for land sector activities. These methodologies are
and will become available for use by companies within the next year.
But some leading companies have charged ahead, measuring their scope 3 emissions
using existing methodologies — and what they have found underscores the
importance of addressing these emissions. For example, in its 2020
Hershey disclosed that 41 percent of its total emissions come from land-use
change alone. Beyond this disclosure, Hershey also states that addressing land
will form a significant part of its future actions on climate change, showing
that it understands that the scope of the problem will not be addressed by
reducing operational emissions alone.
But no one company can do enough to address this sector-wide blind spot.
Achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to no
more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels will not be possible without
substantial reduction of GHGs from food and agriculture. Investor action is
needed to push laggard companies to catch up and do their part, but they need
key disclosure information to do so. That’s why earlier this month, Ceres
launched Food Emissions
will accelerate progress towards a net-zero global economy in the food and
agriculture sector by providing support for investors to engage with the 50 of
the highest-emitting food companies in North America on disclosing emissions,
setting targets, and implementing credible climate transition plans aligned with
the Paris Agreement. It builds on Climate Action
100+, the Global Investor Engagement on
Meat Sourcing, and other
engagements by expanding the list of focus companies and deepening engagements
with the value chains and supply chains of those companies to address scope 3
Specifically, investors are seeking
the focus companies’ boards and senior management to set emissions-reduction
targets and improve the transparency of their actions. The initial benchmark
analysis provides a foundational understanding of where companies are in their
climate journey to give investors insight into where they need to engage with
companies on concrete climate-action plans. It will be followed by further
assessments with more ambitious indicators to determine whether companies are
making progress on their emissions-reduction strategies.
Food Emissions 50 is issuing an urgent call to action for companies to raise
their ambition to disclose emissions, set targets, and implement
climate-transition action plans. The future of our planet depends on it.
Published Aug 19, 2021 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Dr. Julie Nash is director of the food and forests team at Ceres.