Unveiling how food businesses can prioritise climate action and their bottom line

Sophie StevensSophie Stevens

By Sophie Stevens

{1} min read

There are many benefits for businesses looking to pursue climate action, from keeping your customers happy to improving your brand image. Ultimately, we know that the financial performance of your business is your top priority, so it’s also important to note that reducing your environmental impact could actually boost your profits (or at least cut your costs). In this guide, we'll share insights from our own experience working with food businesses, as well as highlight the latest industry reports and forecasts to demonstrate how climate action can reap more than just environmental benefits for your business.

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Lower Operational Costs

Carbon saving initiatives can be seen as a “win-win” for businesses, where they simultaneously cut costs for business operations. Business operations might include the processing, cooking, retail or disposal stages associated with your product’s life cycle. More specifically, finding ways of reducing emissions from 1) energy usage and 2) waste, often naturally lead to lower costs by increasing operational efficiency. 

Developing Low-Impact Recipes

It’s worth noting that creating sustainable recipes, doesn’t need to involve particularly unusual or expensive ingredients. In fact, studies have found that in high-income countries plant-forward diets are actually cheaper. There are opportunities within this to maximise your margins. For example, imagine you offer two dishes, one beef curry and one lentil dhal. A lentil dhal can be flagged as a more ‘sustainable choice’ using carbon labels such as those Foodsteps’ provides, while the ingredients to make the dish cost significantly less than the beef curry. You can signpost customers towards an option that’s more affordable for them, and better for your bottom line and your emissions.

Reducing Energy Usage

A relatively low-hanging fruit when it comes to carbon reduction is energy source. Making changes here can be an easy way of boosting your sustainability credentials without incurring additional costs. 

Emissions from electricity - especially from renewable sources - are much lower compared to gas. When purchasing new equipment, opt for electric (over gas) appliances, especially energy-efficient ones like induction hobs and microwaves. As a simple rule, the quicker the cooking method, the lower the emissions, given less energy is consumed. (Although this is not the case for slow cookers, which are surprisingly energy efficient). 

New innovations to reduce energy costs are also becoming increasingly visible - like this heat exchange box which recovers energy from kitchen fumes and uses it to heat other parts of the site.

In terms of food prep, there are lots of ways you can improve your efficiency. For example, increasing your batch size to ensure you have a “full oven”, using the hob instead of the oven to cut your cooking time, or even introducing passive cooking techniques

Ultimately, reducing energy use by whatever measure can generate cost and carbon savings. Using a platform like Foodsteps allows you to see in real-time how changes to your cooking methods can reduce the environmental footprint of your food.

Waste Management

Introducing more comprehensive tracking of food waste can be a massive help to sales forecasting, as well as waste reduction. While no amount of tracking can eliminate waste entirely, having a better understanding of how much of each recipe you actually sell means that you might need to buy less of certain ingredients.

It’s also essential to distinguish between edible and inedible waste. Often, food that’s being thrown away by businesses could in fact be repurposed in other dishes. For example, unused vegetable offcuts can be frozen and used to make vegetable stock, while bread that’s gone stale can be reused as frozen garlic bread. Other initiatives include using apps like Too Good To Go, Olio and the Felix Project which redistribute surplus food that would otherwise end up in the bin.

So take this as your sign to get creative when it comes to ingredient recycling. You can now even appeal to your customers by marketing these “unsellable” food items.

Incoming Regulations

In the not too distant future, failing to act on your climate impact will be further regulated on both a national and international level. The UK government is legally bound to meet an ambitious ‘net zero by 2050’ target involving decarbonising all sectors in the UK economy. The food industry is identified in the UK Government’s 2022 Food Strategy as a critical area for mitigating climate change in line with this target. Rather than relying entirely on the goodwill of food businesses, it’s likely that more formal mandating of climate action will be introduced.

Regulations might include:

Carbon taxes

  • Businesses could have to pay a penalty for emissions deemed “too high”.

Mandatory impact accounting

  • Requirements for energy and carbon reporting (SECR) already exist for large businesses and could extend to businesses of all sizes in future. 

Mandatory impact labelling

  • In 2021, France included the rollout of environmental labelling in its Climate and Resilience Law. It’s possible other nations will follow suit.
  • The EU Commission also recently proposed new guidance around environmental labelling that will dictate their regulation moving forward.
  • In the UK, a mandatory methodology is in the works for those looking to produce eco-labels or make sustainability claims.

Advertising bans

  • The UK Green Claims Code has already made significant limitations here. It’s possible that even advertising products with a high environmental impact - in whatever capacity - will be prohibited in future.
  • For more on this, read our Green Claims Code blog here.

It’s good to note that whilst future-proofing yourselves against regulatory requirements can create some additional admin, it’s also an endorsement for your brand. Certifications like BCorp or Fair Trade are great examples of how meeting high standards can contribute to a positive brand image.

Market for Sustainable Goods

As mentioned above, in tandem with the UK Green Claims Code, it’s becoming ever clearer that consumers want transparency when it comes to the environmental credentials of the products they buy, and the businesses they buy from. 

Research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2021 found that nearly ¾ of consumers surveyed think it’s important to buy food with a low environmental impact, highlighting the growing demand for sustainable food. And although they remain sceptical as to the trustworthiness of eco-signalling, 49% of people surveyed by the Changing Markets Foundation in 2023 stated that they actively choose food products with environmental sustainability labels or certifications

So, not only is it worth investing in improving and verifying the sustainability of your supply chain, but also being open about where you are on your journey. Even if your outcome isn’t perfect, customers appreciate transparent communication around environmental impact. By sharing your starting point, you open the conversation around what you can do to improve, which in turn helps to build trust in your brand’s commitment to sustainability.

In Conclusion

By proactively implementing these measures, you can safeguard your business from non-compliance and avoid unnecessary expenses while establishing yourself as a pioneer in sustainability. If you feel you're ready to start measuring, understanding and reducing your food footprint get in touch to find out how we can help you.

Join the companies who already use Foodsteps@ to measure, report and reduce their environmental impact.