Achieving Net Zero: A Handbook for the Food and Drink Sector

09 December 2021

This Handbook provides guidance for food and drink manufacturers seeking to play their role in achieving Net Zero emissions. It has been released alongside the Roadmap for Net Zero Overview which summarises the business case for climate action, and is aimed at
wider stakeholders.

The Handbook has been designed to help all food and drink manufacturers, but particularly those at the early stages of developing their climate strategy.

The core of this handbook on value chain stages presents practical actions and information for each stage of the chain from farm to fork. Supporting information for each stage provides the context for action, and signposting to useful further resources available online.


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Executive summary 

The UK food and drink sector has always adapted to changing conditions, most recently the upheavals from EU Exit and COVID-19. The next great challenge is responding to the causes and consequences of climate change, which is already having a negative impact on many aspects of our lives, including food production. Governments have agreed to limit warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C. Achieving this goal requires global greenhouse gas emissions to fall to Net Zero as soon as possible, and by mid-century at the latest.

To reach Net Zero, the food and drink sector will require strong leadership and effective action by employees throughout the sector. There are many practical measures businesses can start implementing without delay, and this Handbook highlights key actions manufacturers can take in each part of the farm-to-fork supply chain.

Manufacturers are directly responsible for only a small proportion of food and drink sector emissions. But you have the power to start reducing manufacturing emissions straight away - for example, by improving energy efficiency and procuring renewable electricity. Ultimately you will achieve Net Zero manufacturing by decarbonising heat processes, sourcing 100% renewable electricity, and switching to sustainable refrigerants.

The largest source of the sector’s emissions is the production of raw ingredients. The emissions associated with individual ingredients vary widely, but those with higher emissions tend to be animal products and imported ingredients linked to deforestation. This Handbook advocates measuring your ingredient emissions, procuring lower carbon ingredients and incorporating carbon targets into product reformulations.

To address emissions elsewhere in your value chain, such as packaging and logistics, this Handbook recommends engaging your suppliers to understand current emissions and working in partnership to reduce them. Your customers and consumers will also welcome low carbon approaches, as they are increasingly demanding lower impact products. Manufacturers can capitalise on these opportunities, and the advent of product labelling systems will be used to communicate carbon footprint performance.

Finally, carbon offsets can play a positive role in your Net Zero strategy but must be used with care. They must be certified high-quality offsets, and used only to compensate for emissions which are truly unavoidable.