Pints, pledges and the planet

Delivering against corporate net-zero ambitions will require a total transformation of hospitality businesses, according to a new Footprint Intelligence report.

This week Footprint Intelligence published its new ‘Net-zero: Time for hospitality to step up’ report, in association with Budweiser Brewing Group UK & Ireland. This details how the current urgency to measure greenhouse gas emissions, set targets to reduce them and take action now has impacted the hospitality sector. Here are a few key take-outs from the extensive interviews, research and exclusive consumer survey to whet the appetite. 

The pressure is on. There is no hiding from the fact that 2021 was ‘the year of net-zero’ promises. Businesses from every sector have been cajoled into pledging their commitment to the cause – by governments, investors and consumers. As ever there are leaders and laggards but most hospitality companies seem to fall somewhere in between.

Carbon choices. Four approaches have broadly emerged: ignore the net-zero agenda altogether; say nothing until you’re ready but prepare to be criticised in the interim; make pledges that demonstrate engagement with the issue but are wafer thin on detail; or get ahead of the pack and position the business as a pioneer with time-bound targets and detailed roadmaps for achieving them. 

From promises to plans. It is encouraging to see some firms already moving beyond the pledges made in press releases and starting to publish more detailed timelines (this of course takes time). This is fast becoming an “expectation” rather than a “choice”. Investors want “meaningful conversations” about what happens next, especially in the absence of any government regulation. “We have to be really honest and transparent,” said one leading contract caterer. 

Carbon corner cutting. There was wide recognition of the fact that no company has all the answers to reaching net-zero in 20 or 30 years’ time. But the temptation to cut corners, for example by relying too heavily on offsetting rather than absolute reductions, will prove harder to resist – especially as companies realise the extent of their scope 3 emissions.

Scope 3 stretch. This is where the real impact of hospitality businesses lies – 83% of the average pub’s emissions are scope 3, while for breweries and restaurants it is 89%. Tackling these indirect emissions is a double-edged sword: it offers the greatest potential for reductions but realising them presents the greatest challenges.

Radical change. “It’s a total transformation. There’s pretty much no area of the business that isn’t vitally important in terms of contributing,” explained one caterer which has committed to net zero. Indeed, this is about new menus, radical overhauls of the way wine and beer is produced, transported and packaged, and changing consumer behaviour. “The fact the big high street chains are talking about regenerative agriculture feels really powerful,” said an industry representative. 

Picking the low hanging fruit. Still, many companies are focusing initially on scopes 1 and 2 (which could realistically be reduced by 90% by 2030). The switch from gas to electric heating can bring significant emissions reductions, for example. Encouragingly, companies are sharing information and collaborating to understand what technology and approaches work. 

Bye-bye brown energy… The research showed renewed interest in energy efficiency, which is helping pay for switches to renewable energy. “I think buying brown energy for your brand is going to be pretty toxic going forward,” said one expert. This could quickly become a marketing tool. 

… and hello new customers. The likes of and Google are already looking at the green initiatives that hotels have in place. This will soon extend to restaurants, pubs and bars: customer reviews are the third most important factor when deciding when to eat out, according to an exclusive Vypr survey for this report.

Sustainability sells. The poll also showed a willingness among the public to switch from their favourite drinks brands to lower carbon options provided there was parity on price. A third (33%) would be willing if the footprint was half, for example. But they need the information in order to act: fewer than one in 10 of the 1,000 people quizzed had seen a carbon footprint either on a menu (8%) or on a drink in a pub (8%). This is expected to rise quickly as ecolabels gain traction and hospitality begins to promote the pledges being made and the actions taken.

Pints and the planet. More consumers than ever understand that what they eat has a climate impact. The link between pints and the planet has yet to resonate. Only around one in four (26%) has thought about the carbon emissions of their drinks when visiting the pub. More than half (57%) said it has never crossed their mind. This is an untapped opportunity: 68% would be more inclined to visit a pub or bar that had made a net-zero commitment versus one that hadn’t.

Promise or puff? There is work to do in reassuring diners and drinkers that the pledges are trustworthy, though. Only 6% always trust the net-zero claims being made, compared to 18% who never trust them. Around a third (35%) sometimes believe what they hear. The onus is on hospitality businesses to prove their promises to protect the planet are not PR puff. 

What’s new in 2022? Pledges are turning into science-based targets; footprints are being calculated and carbon hotspots identified; scope 3 emissions are increasingly included rather than swerved; and suppliers are being engaged. It is early days but if 2021 was the year of net-zero pledges and ambitions, 2022 needs to be the year of net-zero plans and action.

The full report is available here

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