COP28 Insights - Decarbonising the Food Supply Chain

In the pursuit of combating climate change, the global food and agriculture sector stands out as a major contributor, responsible for a staggering 34% of global emissions. At COP28, Terrascope assembled a distinguished panel to delve into the critical task of decarbonising the food supply chain. The panel featured Ferruh Gurtas, Corporate Affairs Director at Tetra Pak; Adam Brennan, Group Director of Sustainability at Thai Union; and Maya Hari, CEO of Terrascope. Their discussions revolved around sustainable solutions, technology, innovative strategies and collaborative efforts to shape a greener future for food production.

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Understanding the Food Value Chain

To address the colossal challenge of decarbonisation in the food supply chain, there are two key segments to note: upstream and downstream emissions. Upstream activities, involving farming and production, often contribute nearly 50% of emissions, with farming practices and food waste playing significant roles. As for downstream, packaging is a crucial element, holding the potential to not only reduce emissions but also prevent food loss.

Ferruh shared Tetra Pak's commitment to sustainability where they have set Science-Based Targets (SBTis) with a net-zero target for 2050, emphasizing a 90% reduction in emissions across scope 1, 2 and 3. Additionally, the company is requiring their suppliers to reduce Scope 3 emissions by 50% by 2030 to match their own target. Ferruh also highlighted the importance of paying attention to materials, such as switching to fibre-based materials in packaging to mitigate emissions.

Adam also shared that Thai Union is the first global seafood processor in the world to set 1.5°C aligned short-term and long-term goals verified by SBTi. He discussed the challenges of being in the seafood industry, where 90% of emissions are categorised as Scope 3 because of the fuel used on board the fishing vessels, along with emissions from farms they work with. Adam emphasised the need for traceability and technology, such as satellite tracking to gather accurate data, enabling efficient and scalable solutions.

 

The Data Challenge

The first step in emissions reduction is emissions measurement. Maya noted during the panel, “Measurement and data are often two sides of the same coin. In order to get a good sense of measurement, you have to have a good sense of data.”

However, this is no easy task, especially in the food sector. For Tetra Pak, 99% of their emissions are not fully under their control and this is their biggest challenge so collaboration across their entire value chain is key. In addition, Adam shared that a lot of companies are deterred from measuring emissions because of how difficult it is to collect data. Here, Maya emphasised the importance of imperfect data – all organizations need to start their decarbonisation journey and not wait for perfect data to come about.

 

The Power of Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)

The conversation shifted towards the viability of PCF as a potential unit of currency for carbon footprint measurement. Maya illustrated using a recent Terrascope project with a beverage manufacturer, that the beverage in a bottle drink contributed only 18% to emissions whereas the packaging accounted for the majority of emissions. She further added that within that packaging, it might be a single plastic sleeve that makes up a majority of the packaging emissions, and that’s how altering small components can have huge emission reductions. PCF plays a key role in providing a common unit of currency for companies to compare emissions across diverse products.

To build a comprehensive approach to decarbonisation, companies must consider targeting emissions at different stages of the value chain. Supplier programs, emission reduction targets, and energy management systems are key levers employed to achieve Tetra Pak's sustainability goals. Companies must also recognise the importance of collaboration with customers, industry initiatives, certification schemes, and technology adoption to drive emissions reductions.

It is also important to use data smartly. As Adam explained, “A lot of the vessels have satellite tracking on board that various government organisations are using to make sure that there's no illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. But what we can potentially use that data for is to estimate the emissions of those vessels. That's something that the Thai Union is starting to look into - whether we can try and avoid going down to the vessel level and use new technologies in this space. Likewise, we're trying to use satellite technology to estimate the energy consumption of all those tens of thousands of shrimp farms, to avoid going side by side trying to collect data. Those are some of the key interventions that we see particularly within seafood as beginning to move the needle.”

 

The Journey to Green Innovation

Speaking about green innovation, questioning how companies view it not just as a regulatory necessity but as an opportunity for revenue growth, Adam shared Thai Union's initiatives in resource efficiency, extracting additional value from seafood byproducts, such as fish oil, collagen, and calcium supplements. This approach not only contributes to sustainability but also opens up new revenue streams for the company.

Ferruh also added that Tetra Pak is working with customers in Malaysia engaged in coconut milk production where their efforts focus on utilising the entire coconut, preventing any waste after milk extraction. He then brought attention to Tetra Pak's focus on sustainable packaging, investing in research and development to find materials that are renewable, recyclable, and carbon neutral.

The panellists also acknowledged the challenges in conveying sustainability messages to consumers effectively. Adam discussed Thai Union's reliance on consumer-facing labels like MSC and ASC, and the company's commitment to putting more sustainable alternatives in front of retailers.

Ferruh spoke about the importance of taste and price in driving acceptance of sustainable options. He highlighted the need for systemic changes towards a greener future for our survival: “This is about the survival of us, not the planet because the planet will survive, but as part of the human species, are we going to survive? We need to really we really need to see this systemically not as a lifestyle but as a mandatory requirement for us to continue to live.”

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