How to build an effective carbon reduction strategy

By Cameron McDonald

A growing number of foodservice operators are responding to the climate emergency by taking measurable, meaningful action and implementing an effective carbon reduction strategyAlthough now is probably not the time to review the footprint of your operation and supply chain, this unscheduled break from service could be an opportunity to plan what is required for a large project in the future. The SRA’s Cameron McDonald tuned in to an edie masterclass and shares the key points to help any business looking to take this important step on the road to making food truly good. 

Developing a carbon reduction strategy can seem a daunting task, trying to quantify the carbon embodied in a value chain for any size of business is no mean feat. However, it is an important step in understanding the impact of your business on the planetand to grasp the real footprint of one of the meals on your menu you need to look at the entire picture.  

‘Carbon neutral’, ‘Net zero’ and ‘science-based targets’ are commonly used goals that businesses of all sizes and industries have set themselves. Without going into the intricacies and comparisons between them, any target worth its weight will require an effective carbon reduction strategy to ensure success. 

Aligning any strategy with internationally recognised standards helps legitimise efforts and means you are working towards a good quality framework. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GGP) published by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) is perhaps the most comprehensive and widely used framework for carbon footprinting. 

The first step in the process is scoping your current carbon footprint, and the GGP outlines three scopes of emissions to consider: 


Scope 1 – Direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the company (fuel combustion on site, including gas as well as company vehicles) 

Scope 2 – Indirect emissions (e.g. from the generation of purchased electricity or heat/cooling) 

Scope 3 – All other indirect emissions associated with the company (Including employee commuting, waste generated, procurement and transportation distributions across the supply chain) 

Of these, scope 1 and 2 are the easiest to measure and report on, you could potentially use existing centralised systems to help gather this info, for example your energy suppliers portal.  

Scope 3 is undoubtedly the most challenging area. Best practice is understanding that scope 1 & 2 is not enough and that you need to look at your whole value chain to get a true picture of your footprint. It could be tempting to de-scope (not include) elements because collecting data would be too time consuming, difficult or costlybut it’s important to remember that any de-scoping will undervalue your final carbon footprint. Be consistent with your data quality – establish a hierarchy to ensure all the data used fits your standards. 

An important factor in successfully reviewing at your scope 3 emissions is supply chain engagement and being clear about the relationship you want with your suppliers. In a foodservice setting, it is likely for a restaurant that much of this will be in food procurement. Think about the contractual relationship you want to have with them in terms of access to data. Engage with those suppliers and get their opinions/input as stakeholders into the projectYou can be hard or soft with your suppliers to get their data. An unrelated benefit may mean that you want to have greater ownership of the supply chain and a better relationship with key stakeholders in the future 

Once you’ve completed an initial scoping of your footprint, the next step is to identify carbon intensive areas of your business, and get to work on establishing a reduction strategyWhat this looks like will depend on your resources, but it will be important to involve as many sections of the business as possible and set realistic targets. Long term targets are back in vogue, as they tie in with global climate change initiatives like top-down science-based targets, but it is important that they are underpinned by achievable shortterm goals.  

If you’ve got this far and are still interested, but worried about how you can get buy-in from the rest of the business, a good approach is to start building a business case for decarbonisation, particularly if you’re in a business with a senior management team unmotivated by the direct impacts of climate change. Whether or not we are going to be able to keep global temperatures under a 2 degree increase is almost irrelevant, instead focus on the implications of a shift in government policy which favours businesses on the right side of climate action, which it is clear is already in motion.  

The Top 3 tips for building an effective carbon reduction strategy: 

  1. Build a business case for decarbonisation, to get others onboard.  
  1. Scope everything that you possibly can, to understand your carbon footprint.  
  1. Set ambitious long-term targets, underpinned by achievable shortterm goals.  

You can access the full How to build and effective carbon-reduction strategy here 

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