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Supermarkets: go beyond net zero; the saturday essay.

Byline: Iain Gulland

Declarations on becoming net zero have been made at all levels within the past year, by countries and cities, supermarkets, oil giants, airlines and universities. And that's fantastic, but only up to a point.

The UK and Scottish governments' commitment to reach net zero by 2050 and 2045 respectively is a great start towards reducing the carbon emissions behind the climate crisis. But we need to go much further.

Our demand for resources is the single greatest cause of our global carbon emissions. In Scotland around four fifths of our carbon footprint comes from the products and materials we consume. Of those, roughly half come from everything we import from overseas to feed our huge consumption habit. And our national net-zero targets don't address that because they only tackle the emissions we cause within our own borders.

Many firms have announced plans to offset their emissions through actions like investing in planting trees. But offsetting will not reduce our emissions to zero. It's like stopping a bath overflowing by pulling out the plug instead of turning off the taps.

There is a simple and effective way to reach zero, however, which food retailers have real power to lead on, and some are starting to do just that.

It is the circular economy - a sustainable way of tackling our wasteful consumption and the harmful emissions that creates by maximising the value of our limited resources to make everything last.

That means reducing, reusing, repairing, remaking, recycling and recovering everything. Food waste is a major cause of the climate crisis, creating worse emissions short-term than plastic due to both the amount wasted and to the added waste of all the resources which went into producing it.

Supermarkets are also the main source of needless packaging which consumers pay for, bin, and increasingly complain about as public understanding of the causes of the climate crisis grows. Food retailers are well placed to tackle both those issues by using the power they have to influence supply chains.

Creating a circular supply chain promises significant savings in cash, waste and carbon emissions throughout the food and drink sector.

So, while recent net-zero pledges by giants like Sainsbury's are valuable, and rightly target food waste and packaging, they're not enough. Given where we are now, action on food waste and packaging should already be a given, not a goal.

We are all in this together so we need to ramp up our collective ambition and action. If net-zero targets have become commonplace, so too have horrific images of the world burning.

This November the UK government hosts COP26, the most important climate summit yet If there's one target we should all set and meet it is arguably to ensure that by the time they get here we can show that we're cutting waste and emissions not just in the UK but globally too to reduce our emissions to zero. Only that will truly combat the climate crisis.

Iain Gulland is CEO of Zero Waste Scotland

" We need to go much further than net-zero commitments"

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Author:Iain Gulland
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 29, 2020
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