Search for standardised eco-labelling approach begins

The Environment Agency has launched a project that will “standardise metrics for environmental performance of the food and drink sector”. Big foodservice chains have been encouraged to get involved.

The aim is “to make it simpler for businesses and for the public to understand the environmental performance of companies in key areas such as greenhouse gas reduction and resource efficiency”.

That won’t be easy. The European Commission has been working on a standardised approach to carbon emissions for over a decade – but only made baby steps towards a footprinting tool that all could use.

As a result, food companies have decided to launch their own schemes and labels. The past few months has seen a rush on so-called ‘eco-scores’ that offer consumers a simple indication of a product’s environmental impact.

Supermarkets, packaged food brands and foodservice chains have all joined forces on schemes including Foundation Earth, the EcoScore Initiative and Foodsteps. Compass Group UK & Ireland, meanwhile, is working with University of Oxford academics on a labelling scheme to use across its workplace catering sites.

“Different food businesses have developed and adopted various environmental metrics and it can be time-consuming for food businesses to collect data from different supplier systems,” explained the EA’s project lead Becca Tremain. “This project seeks to address this challenge by standardising environmental metrics for food businesses that go beyond legal compliance.”

In theory, food companies could measure their environmental performance and “potentially benchmark it against others more consistently”, the EA explained in an email. 

This would also help firms stay on the right side of the law. “One of the big challenges for food businesses trying to mitigate climate change is how to communicate their environmental performance that goes beyond legal compliance effectively and efficiently,” Tremain said.

The Competition and Markets Authority has said it will be clamping down on greenwashing come the New Year. During a consultation ‘comparative claims’ were raised as a particular concern by some industry groups. The CMA said its guidance was amended accordingly.

The EA’s new project will bring together a host of experts from the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge, as well as regulators in Scotland and Northern Ireland. WRAP, the British Standards Institute and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment are also involved.

Industry partners include Sainsbury’s, Nestlé, Cranswick, 2 Sisters and Vitacress. However, an EA spokesperson told Footprint it is interested in working with the hospitality sector, especially the “bigger players” on the high street.

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