Moving to net zero: The food and drink sector’s call to action

03 May 2023

By Iain Clunie, Net Zero Programme Director, Food and Drink Federation Scotland 

The food and drink industry is facing one of its biggest, most complex challenges yet: how does it accelerate its journey to net zero and take advantage of the opportunities and potential economic benefits?


Globally the food and drink sector accounts for a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions - one of the single largest contributors to climate change.

Across Scotland the sector accounts for more than 20% of our carbon emissions, and while it does not shoulder all the responsibility for achieving net zero, it will play a pivotal role.

We should be in no doubt the challenge is significant, and now more than ever our impact on the planet is undeniable. We are at a crossroads with a stark choice to make, and we must do this with our eyes open.

As food and drink businesses across the country look to address their environmental impact, and meet the ever-growing consumer demands, the inevitable economic impact comes into sharp focus.

Funding is a major reason for businesses, particularly SMEs - which make up more than 90% of the Scottish sector - not investing in greener, more sustainable operations and practices. For many SMEs the start of the journey to net zero can seem daunting, and the industry target of 2045 for reaching neutrality a long way off.

Governments across the UK setting ambitious targets is all well and good, but we need investment quickly and business friendly policies to help our sector survive the challenges we face.

We need to make sure everyone is brought along on this journey, that net zero is at the heart of all businesses, new and old, and that we share information and examples of best practice. Co-ordinated action must be taken, and now.

Scotland has long punched above its weight on the global stage; we have a wealth of world-class products as well as natural resources to call upon, all supported by world-leading research institutes on our doorstep.

We need to start changing the narrative of defeat to a much more optimistic outlook of strength, with a ‘can do’ attitude. There are real grounds for optimism and some great examples of companies taking advantage of the latest innovations and putting Scotland firmly on the global net zero map.

Our biggest problem is the food and drink sector is not far enough down the track and is significantly lacking the investment required leaving us playing catch up. Everyone across the entire supply chain needs to play their part. Whether you are a producer, a supplier, retailer or consumer - no one is exempt.

Practical barriers such as a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to calculate your carbon footprint and skills gaps in your workforce can quickly put people off.

This is where political leadership is essential, as are the policies that will enable business to make the necessary changes and positively impact long-term economic growth.

At Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland’s recent reception at the Scottish Parliament it was heartening to see a good cross section of MSPs pledging their support to secure the future of our industry. However, actions speak louder than words and it will be interesting to see how our new First Minister and his government get behind our multi-billion-pound industry and create a sustainable future for all.

Initiatives like the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership’s Net Zero Programme– hosted by FDF Scotland - can help. We are here to support the Scottish Government, businesses and consumers to reach the 2045 net zero targets.

The programme provides leadership and advice to food and drink organisations at any stage of the journey, so they are aware of the required changes and have the confidence to implement them.

The small early steps industry can take will make a difference and should not be underestimated - they are often vital to enabling us to make the bigger changes.

To note: This article was orginally published in the Scotsman on 18 April 2023.