The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report painted a bleak picture for how climate change could lead to sustained food and water insecurity. The report urged action from legislators and companies now.
Despite the dire report, one sustainability platform sees an upside for food and beverage companies, believing that these businesses have the greatest ability to improve the situation.
“One of the most important things that was highlighted in this report, which is clearer than ever, is that food is a nature-based solution,” HowGood’s chief innovation officer Ethan Soloviev explained. “It says very boldly that agriculture is both a huge driver of the challenges and the only thing that can be net positive.”
Sustainable food research company HowGood — which works with CPGs like General Mills, Kraft Heinz and Danone to calculate their emissions and rates companies based on their carbon footprint — thinks food makers can do more with what they have in their supply chain.
The food and beverage industry is responsible for more than a third of total emissions globally, the UN said. Soloviev said this report detailed how food is not just a cause for rising emissions, but that it can serve as a way to solve the climate crisis.
“Agriculture can touch all of this way more than efficient buildings, way more than fuel switching, way more than carbon capture and storage,” Soloviev said.
HowGood launched a measurement platform last fall to help food companies track their scope 3 emissions — those produced indirectly, through their ingredient supply chain or waste — which make up roughly 87% of food company emissions. The HowGood platform analyzes over 33,000 ingredients, the company said.
While the IPCC report was “rough,” Soloviev added that it also gives the food industry insight into how farming techniques can be a powerful force behind lowering emissions.
Soloviev pointed to the section of the IPCC report that details mitigation strategies for emissions, which shows how carbon sequestration is among the most promising solutions for returning carbon to the atmosphere — worth over 3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
After other mitigation measures like solar and wind energy, the report listed deforestation and sustainable healthy diets as climate changing factors.
‘Carbon is the new calorie’ but beware of greenwashing
One way CPGs can communicate their commitment to lowering emissions is through the food products themselves.
In recent years, food and beverage CPGs have rolled out products that aim to lower the carbon in their supply chain — from Bud Light Next beer, which the company said it offsets the emissions to produce, to Evol frozen meals from Conagra Brands. Earlier this year, Oatly rolled out carbon footprint labeling on its yogurt packaging.
“Carbon is the new calorie, so we will see carbon footprints on packaging more and more,” Soloviev said.
But food companies run the risk of greenwashing charges if they are not specific about how they are working to improve their supply chain. And focusing too much on carbon can feel dry or disconnected to some consumers without a human connection, Soloviev said. He thinks there is open space for food companies to communicate the biodiversity in their farming systems and the ingredients they are using.
“Who doesn’t love some beautiful rare species of animal or plant somewhere in the world? Connecting based on biodiversity will provide a real life connection,” Soloviev said. “There’s some new tech coming for measuring biodiversity, and that will open up possibilities.”
Many food and beverage companies have also received certification from third-party organizations in order to signal their products’ carbon neutrality or sustainable production methods, including Fresh Del Monte’s carbon-neutral pineapples.
There are many different types of certification which can be confusing to consumers, Soloviev said. The HowGood executive believes in a few years, there will be a streamlining of these types of certification, where one or two become the most widely used.
“You’ll see more unification of the types of labels that are out there, and a retailer will rate everything in their entire store,” Soloviev said.
How green tech leads the way
In March 2022, the SEC proposed rule changes to require companies to periodically share information about their climate impact, which could signal a greater cost for those who are not transparent.
There are several other sustainability tech companies besides HowGood, including Sustain.Life, which helps companies calculate scope 3 emissions and set them on the path toward lowering their footprint.
For food companies looking to move toward large sustainability goals like lowering emissions, they must first address what is needed for their specific supply chain, Sustain.Life’s Alyssa Rade said. She said her company’s platform focuses on action, which includes more than just emissions.
“We have a module where you can engage with your top suppliers, understand where your emissions hotspots are, request allocated emissions and even look beyond, to larger ESG practices like fair labor and working conditions,” Rade said.