Food and drinks companies facing mandatory emissions targets

Change in Bord Bia programme will compel members with €50m turnover to set goals


All major Irish food and drinks companies will in future have to commit to reducing carbon emissions if they are to be part of Origin Green – the national sustainability programme run by Bord Bia.

In one of the most significant decarbonisation measures undertaken in the sector, new procedures and guidelines published on Thursday “put carbon emission targets on a mandatory footing for food and drink manufacturers”. Almost 300 food and drink companies across Ireland are verified members of Origin Green, representing more than 90 per cent of food and drink exports.

The move seeks to enable the sector to “accelerate its contribution to the programme for Government’s aim of carbon neutrality by 2050”. It has particular implications for businesses linked to beef and dairy – including the country’s largest co-operatives and meat companies – and especially if linked to the generation of greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Since Origin Green came into operation in 2012, many of its targets and performance indicators operated on a voluntary basis, though commitments on energy, packaging and waste were mandatory.

‘Significant shift’

The announcement “marks a significant shift for the Origin Green programme and will see member companies go beyond reductions of energy-related emissions, to include a more comprehensive assessment of their entire carbon footprint,” said Origin Green director Deirdre Ryan.

This includes “value-chain emissions” which incorporates all indirect emissions associated with food manufacturing including freight and travel. To drive impact at a large scale, she said, Bord Bia was initially introducing this mandatory carbon emission target to Origin Green members with a turnover greater than €50 million. These companies must conduct baseline assessments this year to determine emissions targets from 2022 onwards.

Their plans would be reviewed, monitored annually, and independently verified. Bord Bia has prepared comprehensive guidelines for companies on how to decarbonise their operations and supply chains.

The advice on net-zero target setting and implementation is based on the UN’s “measure, reduce and compensate” model, explained Raoul Empey of Sustineo, a mentor on the programme. Increasingly, it would require putting in place nature-based solutions, he confirmed.

“Accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2050, is required to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Business leaders are now shifting their focus from what is achievable to what needs to be done,” Ms Ryan said.

Over a five-year period, food and drink manufacturers had delivered an 11 per cent reduction in energy use and a 17 per cent reduction in water use per unit of output.

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy added: “Our €13 billion food and drink export industry has established a hard-earned, global reputation as a leading producer of high-quality sustainable food and drink. Maintaining this reputation, which must continue to be evidence-based, is more important than ever in the face of continued global trading volatility. But, not at any cost.”

She acknowledged Ireland’s agri-food sector needed to do more, and faster. “Origin Green has, and will, continue to deliver impact by providing a co-ordinated national approach to reducing emissions across the supply chain as a part of the Irish Government’s wider climate action response,” she said.

The Origin Green “Pathway to Net Zero” framework states “if a company boundary includes any farm operations, follow Teagasc best practice to minimise on-farm emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide”.

It also advocates “carbon insetting”; the practice of investing in “offsetting projects within a company’s supply chain or sector, eg a dairy processor might choose to invest in carbon reduction of the Irish farms supplying raw milk such as by improving the energy efficiency of milking parlours, or by changing the management practices to optimise the methane emissions of a particular herd”.