COP26 has encouraged an appetite for sustainable business practices across the country's food and drink sector – with an ambitious new document produced by the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership making five commitments on a just transition towards a net zero economy. By Andrew Collier.

Food and drink is critically important to the Scottish economy. It is one of the country’s top export sectors, generating some £5.5 billion a year. One reason for this huge success is that it presents a positive, green image to the world.

Visions of whisky distilleries in picturesque countryside or salmon pulled from clean and sparkling waters are always going to be captivating.

However, these positive impressions are not enough by themselves.  Environmental excellence is something that has to be worked at.

The collaboration that happens within the food and drink industry is unique and powerful. The Scotland Food & Drink Partnership facilitates and enables government and industry to work side by side to take on the challenges facing it in the best possible way.

The sector is determined to steer itself to a net zero future, and the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership has just taken a major step forward by launching the Net Zero Commitment to bring the industry together in order to achieve this.

Caroline de Rouffignac, Scotland Food & Drink’s Strategy and External Relations Manager, explains why this initiative is so broad and important. “As a partnership, we bring together all the trade bodies in the industry in Scotland, so we represent the full supply chain.”

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Individual sectors such as whisky and salmon have their own strategies and are working hard at sustainability, she adds. “But by working together we will be able to tackle our most pressing shared challenges, deliver the Scottish Government’s 2045 Net Zero target, and help businesses stay on the front foot commercially.”

A document produced by the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership at the launch makes five long term commitments to address the challenges and opportunities of a just transition.

They are:

-Placing net zero at the heart of all Scotland Food and Drink’s sector strategies.

-Supporting businesses on their net zero journey through planning and interventions that cater for their specific needs and challenges.

-Tackling key shared challenges through collaboration that goes beyond the existing full supply chain approach. This will encompass other sectors in addressing areas such as energy, packaging, waste, carbon sequestration and asset lifecycle planning.

-Using data to drive activity, identifying opportunities as well as challenges.

-Ensuring that the sector’s transition to net zero is a just one by looking to support green skills, fair work and lifelong careers in both rural and urban parts of Scotland.

Ms de Rouffignac stresses that collaboration will be the key to success. “What the Commitment does is increase our collective ambition, enables us to deploy and share resources effectively and allows us to hold ourselves accountable going forward.

The Partnership recognises that it needs to support these commitments with practical interventions. These include the introduction of a pilot net zero adviser programme to support businesses making the transition, along with other initiatives such as the Net Zero Challenge Fund and a Partnership technical group to improve emissions data collection.

There needs to be more coherence and better understanding of data across the industry, she says.

“That’s because everyone measures differently. We are all monitoring in different ways.”

Why is the use of data so important?

“It allows us to report accurately, ensuring we are making progress and sound decisions. We need to know where we are and if our initiatives are keeping us on track to meet net zero. At its core, the work of the Partnership is market driven – we work together to increase growth of all the food and drink sectors.

“We believe that net zero is a commercial opportunity. We want to support all food and drink businesses to accelerate their net zero journey and having the data, and the proof points, will put them on the front foot commercially.”

Having a plan will help when approaching retailers, Ms de Rouffignac adds. “It will allow companies to prove that they are aligned with retailer ambitions and are responding to consumer demand.

She points out that the food and drink sector in Scotland is a diverse one.

Some parts of it have been on the road to net zero for a considerable time and so have reached a level of maturity, while others are at an earlier stage of their net zero journey.

“There is some variation within the industry. Take whisky, for example. It has really forged ahead. Other sectors have a different set of complex challenges, and may take longer. By having sectors at different stages of the net zero journey, we have the opportunity to share learnings and to find solutions together as a partnership.”

Working collaboratively means that issues such as transport, data and packaging can be looked at as a whole. “It means we can evaluate what we can do together and see how we can implement solutions, looking at things from a full supply chain perspective.”

Ms de Rouffignac agrees that Scotland is fortunate with its natural environment and resources. “We have real potential to be a world leader in climate friendly food and drink production.

“That’s the point we are starting at –our producers are doing a lot and many are showing real leadership – but we can increase our efforts as an industry and make sure that businesses are getting the right support to reduce emissions even further and tell our story better.

“We’ve seen an increase in consumer demand for greener products and more sustainable brands. The business case for net zero is undeniable. Cutting emissions means cutting costs, improving the bottom line and becoming a leaner, more efficient business.

“Net  zero ambition overlaps completely with financial sustainability. But support for business is needed, especially considering the strain and pressure coming from labour shortages, packaging material shortages and ongoing Brexit complications – food and drink producers have a lot on their plate just now. 

She believes the Partnership Net Zero Commitment is “incredibly powerful”, adding: “It’s unlike anything else in the UK or Europe that I know of, with trade bodies coming together to work towards a shared goal along with the Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies. It’s been a fascinating and rewarding project to work on.”

www.foodanddrink.scot

 

HIGH-LEVEL BACKING FOR SECTOR’S NET ZERO PLAN

THE new net zero commitment by the Scottish Food & Drink Partnership aims to make a real difference by helping to guide decisions and pool resources to meet the sustainability challenges of the present and the future.

It will help to put in place the mechanisms needed to accelerate progress towards becoming carbon neutral while at the same time allowing the industry to hold itself to account.

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The strategy has been backed by high level figures within the sector and in government. The rural affairs secretary, Mairi Gougeon, said at the launch during COP26 in Glasgow: “Scottish food and drink ranges from iconic traditional produce through to new and innovative brands.

“It has rightly earned an enviable reputation for quality at home and abroad. Consumers are taking an increasing interest in where their food comes from.

“People rightly want to be assured that their purchases are the best quality, are locally and sustainably sourced and produced and are helping to address the environmental impacts of production and processing.”

She added that the sector employed more people in manufacturing than any other as well as making a huge contribution to exports and supporting thousands of jobs across Scotland.

“We want it to have a sustainable future. It has a key role to play in helping deliver our net zero ambitions and I am delighted it is rising to the challenge. This initiative is a very welcome addition to the measures taken towards 2045 carbon targets.”

David Thomson, Chief Executive of Food and Drink Federation Scotland and Chair of the Net Zero Taskforce, said: “Climate change poses some very real challenges to our industry and it is critical that we take ownership of our role in combating it.

“This will inevitably involve changing some of our methods and doing things differently, but change is the only way we will be able to continue to produce world renowned food and drink in Scotland for generations to come.”

 

This article is brought to you in association with Scotland Food & Drink Partnership as part of The Herald's Climate for Change Campaign.