The world’s largest food companies have gone backwards on net zero
An analysis by Just Food of some of the food majors’ progress on net zero shows the scale of challenge ahead.
Greenhouse gas emissions across nine of the world’s largest food companies have risen by a combined 27 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in the past 12 months. Carbon footprints increased by 7% on average in the most recent year of reporting, as brands struggled to contain their Scope 3 emissions.
Just Food assessed the performance of Danone, General Mills, JBS, Kellogg, Kraft Heinz, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé and PepsiCo against their net-zero carbon reduction targets. Tyson Foods, the US-based meat-processing major, was also assessed but is the only company yet to report on its full value chain emissions (Scope 3).
Data weren’t always easily accessible, with figures pulled from sustainability updates, company websites, net-zero roadmaps and reports to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), as well as direct consultation with the companies. Comparing one with another is fraught with uncertainty given varying methodologies, the lack of primary data being used, the omission of some emissions from Scope 3 reporting and ever-changing guidance. However, the analysis clearly shows the scale of challenge the biggest packaged food companies face in shrinking their footprints.
Direct emissions (Scopes 1 and 2) have dropped at all but three companies, which is good news. However, only two companies, Danone (5%) and Nestlé (0.2%), have managed to reduce their Scope 3 emissions in the latest 12-month period: given that these often represent 90% or more of a food company’s footprint, this increase constitutes millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases and could put 2030 reduction targets in jeopardy.
At Kraft Heinz, for example, Scope 3 emissions jumped 76% from 25MtCO2e in 2020 to almost 44MtCO2e in 2021. A spokesperson offered little explanation for the shift: “This is something we plan to address in the first half of next year when we share our SBTi [Science-Based Targets Initiative]-aligned targets.” The firm has yet to set a baseline for this target. However, using 2019 (the baseline for many of the company’s environmental metrics) as an example, Kraft Heinz would need to slash emissions from the current 44MtCO2e to well under 20MtCO2e by 2030. That’s a tall order.
Others are facing up to the reality of similarly steep downward carbon curves.