At a time when UK environmental policy appears to be heading only one way – backwards, it’s worth reminding ourselves that a critical mass of businesses support a drive to rapidly decarbonise the global economy. This week a group of companies including Unilever, Coca Cola and GSK urged the European Union to ramp up its climate ambition to avoid passing irreversible tipping points. A new position paper by the Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) Europe, convened by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, called on the European Union to reduce its 2040 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% compared to 1990 levels and thus “send a clear signal to businesses that climate action will remain at the heart of the EU’s political agenda for the next two decades”.
The report lays out 10 principles the EU needs to follow to reach the 2040 target. They include accelerating electrification, energy efficiency and phasing out fossil fuels; harnessing circular economy and eco-design solutions for environmental and climate benefits; and significantly increasing EU and national budgetary allocations for climate and nature. Ursula Woodburn, director of Corporate Leaders Group Europe, said the target was “necessary, desirable and feasible”, adding: “It will send a strong signal to speed up both decarbonisation efforts and the clean energy transition - and to increase the EU’s industrial competitiveness.”
Significantly, the group said the 90% target should include no more than 8-10% coming from carbon removals – often achieved through offsetting. The practice has come under scrutiny of late following the decision of several businesses to retreat from targets to achieve carbon neutrality in order to focus on decarbonisation from their own operations and value chains. This week, the Carbon Trust announced it too is ditching its carbon neutral label and replacing it with four new consumer-facing labels that focus on emissions reductions and comparisons of products’ carbon footprints. The Grocer reported that the consultancy and certification body will not seek global recertification for its carbon neutral label, which currently features on almost 900 food and drink products, citing demand among consumers and businesses for “more rigorous requirements and detail” when it came to making carbon claims.
One way for food companies to decarbonise their product offering is to incorporate more low-carbon beans and pulses into products and meals. Last week, a coalition of NGOs and businesses presented a roadmap for driving a 100% increase in bean consumption by 2028 at the Africa Food Systems Forum 2023. The SDG2 Advocacy Hub, which coordinates the Beans is How campaign, outlined plans to drive up demand for beans and other pulses by promoting their nutritional and environmental benefits while increasing visibility, accessibility and desirability. The campaign will also work with partners to encourage more farmers to grow beans, particularly new and improved varieties.
The roadmap sets out plans to develop digital campaign efforts to promote recipes and cooking advice by working with food champions, such as chefs and social media influencers. Beans is How has designed a “Bean Menu Challenge” to encourage chefs to feature beans more visibly in restaurants. “Chefs are trusted voices that can influence food trends. If every chef added more beans to their menus or in their products, this would reach millions of people,” said chef Sam Kass, Founder of Trove and Beans is How champion.
Beans will feature prominently on the menus at UK universities in future if a group of plant-based campaigners get their way. More than 650 academics, along with public figures, campaigners and business representatives, have called on British universities to commit to 100% plant-based catering to fight the climate crisis. In an open letterto university vice-chancellors, catering managers and student union presidents, the student-led Plant-Based Universities campaign wrote: “We are acutely aware – as you must be too – of the climate and ecological crises; not only this but we are also mindful that animal farming and fishing are leading drivers of them.” It called on universities to “begin the transition to 100% just and sustainable plant-based catering at your own institutions”, following the lead of other institutions including Stirling, Cambridge, Birmingham, Queen Mary, London Metropolitan, Kent, and University College London.
Sticking with academia and the risk of crumbling concrete is not the only concern facing parents as children returned to school this week. Campaigners warn that cost of living and inflationary pressures mean children ineligible for free school meals face the prospect of going without at least one hot meal a day. From September, primary school pupils in London are benefiting from a one-year trial to provide free school meals to all children. And a new survey shows voters across both major political parties in England are supportive of extending free school meals, to make sure every child has access to at least one healthy and sustainable meal every day. The Soil Association-led Food For Life programme published data showing that 71% of voters think that the income threshold to qualify for free school meals is too low or should not exist at all, while 82% of prospective Labour voters and 53% of prospective Conservative voters support the expansion of free school meals.
"This polling shows there is widespread support across the political spectrum,” said Rob Percival, head of policy for food and health at the Soil Association. “Hats off to the Mayor of London and other bold local leaders who have recognised the superpowers of free school meals and expanded provision. We now need action from the government to ensure every child has equal access to at least one hot meal a day, wherever they live.”Also covered in this week’s Footprint news is the revelation that food data reporting as part of a new government transparency scheme will be voluntary rather than mandatory; details of the first draft of a global plastics treaty; and updated guidance on precautionary allergen labelling for businesses