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Comment: Crafting climate recipes for success

Yum! Brands provides inspiration for other foodservice companies looking to go beyond targets and start setting out transition plans, says Meryl Richards.

Climate transition plans are like recipes for how food companies are bringing their climate goals to fruition. And how complete that plan is, and the quality of strategies it employs, indicates how successful the company will be in achieving its desired result.

In our latest benchmark of how many of the largest North American food companies are tackling the industry’s supersized contributions to the climate crisis, Yum! Brands stood out for making progress on one transition plan element that we did not see yet. 

Yum! Brands is the first company engaged in Ceres Food Emissions 50 initiative – aimed at accelerating the sector’s global transition to a net zero economy – to begin putting numbers to its whole strategy to reduce emissions.

Although other companies we benchmarked estimated emissions reductions for specific climate projects, Yum! Brands outlined in its 2023 sustainability report how all its climate efforts will add up to achieving its scope 1 and 2, as well as scope 3 emissions reductions targets. The company also identified the estimated percentage of emissions it expects to slash by acting on different drivers of its main emissions sources, such as livestock production and land use change. 

Yum! Brands’ plan could go further: Like most other companies, it still lacks details on how the company will align its strategy for future growth and innovation with its climate targets. Yet in disclosing numbers alongside its strategies, Yum! joins only a few others in the food sector, including Nestlé and Mars, to report evidence of a quantified climate transition plan – despite the importance of this step. 

And like with a good recipe, other food companies can take inspiration from these plans to formulate their own, as they prove the climate maths can be done. The point, after all, is not for companies to get their plans perfect from the start. 

Transition plans should be iterative, and investors understand that these plans will change over time as companies gain new understanding and more data. But putting numbers to a plan is an entrée into ensuring that the company is covering its bases; that it knows where it needs to go and has an idea of how it will get there. It informs the company how emissions reduction levers can be leveraged throughout the business and where it might need to work with industry peers or engage in policy advocacy to spur innovation that will create more ways to further reduce emissions.        

Companies can learn from each other. Our benchmark analysis finds more companies are making measured progress in developing climate transition plans, but with 2030 quickly approaching they have no time to lose in turning those targets into action and crafting their own recipes for success. The examples set forth by companies like Yum!, Nestlé, and Mars give companies a sense of how they can do just that. 

Meryl Richards is programme director, food and forests, at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres.