GUEST BLOG: Net Zero and School Catering

John Edwards, of 3e Associates, NetZero, procurement and strategic advisor to the academies and education sector, Angela Tregear, Professor of Marketing at University of Edinburgh Business School and Adam Wilkinson, Founder of Impact Measurement Limited provide a practical guide to the fundamental changes that we need to make in the delivery and management of school catering services to reduce carbon emissions. Looking at:

  • what you should be considering in your procurement requirements.
  • how to evaluate and cut through any Green Washing.
  • what performance management and KPIs you should consider.

They will also provide a quick look at a very simple meal analyser tool that you can you use to:

  • accurately baseline a menu/service carbon footprint.
  • accurately measure carbon reduction
  • provide your service provider/catering team with suggested areas to target for improved carbon reduction

Why are we bothered about NetZero?

The UK is committed by law to reach net zero by 2050 as part of the Paris Agreement. Additionally, we have to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels of 1.2 degrees.

How are we doing at achieving this target? Not great as events this year so far have illustrated. We are past the 1.2 degrees target and will pass the Paris target of 1.5 degrees by 2030. If we do not up our game significantly then we are heading towards a projected rise of 3 degrees or warmer.

The UN predicts we are already in the 1.5 degrees zone. The impact of this, as we have witnessed this year across the globe, is drought and wild fires. As the warming worsens the impact worsens. If we go past 2 degrees then the outcome is not worth thinking of. If we act now then 2 degrees is a realistic target and there is half a chance that we can reduce this if we employ innovative technologies.

 It is vital we do our bit and act quickly now. The imperative for everyone working in education is clear – climate change will affect our young people and, when surveyed, it is consistently, over the past five years, in their top 2 issues that worry them.

The Impact of Food and Catering

Food production accounts for around 37% of greenhouse gases. To put this in context, all air travel accounts for around 2%. It is clearly one of the biggest challenges but the good news is there is a lot we can do.

If we breakdown the figure of 37%, 57% of greenhouse gases come from animal-based food productions and 29% from plant based; hence the attention on reducing our meat consumption. In addition, food waste accounts for 8% to 10% of greenhouse gases.

Out of all the different animal food production beef is the biggest contributor –significantly worse than any other type of food production.

What you should consider in your procurement

Net Zero is a cultural shift and needs to be embedded in everything you do. You have to be demanding of yourself and of suppliers and set ambitious targets. You should look for a year-on-year reduction target of 10% as an absolute minimum.

This means acting now to reduce meat consumption and food wastage and improved data gathering and reporting. It is key that you establish a baseline to understand where you are starting from and you need the tools to do this. It is much easier to do this at the start of a contract of planning cycle rather than half way through. This is covered later in this blog when we will go into greater detail about the Meal Analyser and how it can help you.

When looking at contractors, there are some key points to look for. Any company you are planning to work with should have a tangible commitment to Net Zero which means they should have 1S0 14001, or be working towards it. Any larger food or drink supplier should be signed up to The Courtauld Commitment 2030 (ISO 14064/7 & pas 2050). They should have a clear commitment to decarbonization on their website and in their annual report, have published targets and a presence at board level with milestones and details of how they are reporting on progress. The absolute gold standard is whether they have Race to Zero accreditation. To qualify, companies have to go through scrutiny and regular checks and if they fail to deliver against their plans they are removed from the scheme.

When researching companies, focus on impact and evidence, whether they have a sustainability manager, what processes and policies they have in place and their track record.

In new procurement agreements, it is essential that you have a commitment from all parties to a baseline or starting point, the KPIs you will be measuring against, how data will be collated and how it will be analysed. As a very basic KPI you should be looking at a 10% reduction in emissions and in reality, it should be more.

To support you in doing this you will need a recognised methodology/tool to measure a baseline, set and track performance against targets; a commitment by both parties to use the proposed methodology/tool and a commitment by your provider to make the time and any changes required to gather data and report on this. Again, we will cover how the The Meal Analyser will help you to do this. However, whatever you use you and your provider have to commit to using the data.

Where should you focus your attention?

What are the biggest sources of emissions in school catering and where do people need to put their energies to reduce them?

Typically, the school catering chain is made up of food production, processing and logistics and then, once it lands on site, kitchen production, waste handling and disposal. What we have learnt is that the biggest sources of emission are:

  • Around 60% to 70% of total emissions are due to activities in agricultural production and food processing.  
  • 5% to 10% are due to transportation
  • 10% to 20% of emissions are from canteen activities (cooking storage, washing)
  • Depending on how disposal is done a negative impact of -4 to -16% emissions

The vast majority of emissions come from the type of food you buy. Based on research, the average kilo of food that caterers buy is made up of:

  • 42% fruit and veg
  • 33% groceries (rice, pasta, bread, oils)
  • 12% diary products
  • 7% other meat
  • 3% red meat
  • 3% fish

Based on this, the average food kilo generates 2.5 kilos of carbon emissions (twice the weight of the kilo of food). There are major variations in this dependent on the types of food bought, ranging from 1.5 kilos of carbon, for schools using greater proportions of fruit and veg and poultry, up to nearly 4 kilos for schools buying red meat.

Any change you make will have a large cumulative impact on your carbon footprint.

For example, a company serving 25,000 meals, using anaerobic waste disposal (low carbon impact), if they served the average menu, generating 2.5 kilos of carbon per kilo of food, their total emissions would be 1,170 tonnes. To compensate they would need to plant 195 hectares of trees.

If the same service, under the same conditions procured the lower impact menu, generating 1.5 kilos of carbon per kilo of food, their total emissions would equate to 740 tonnes of carbon equating meaning they would need to plant 123 hectares of trees.

How to get accurate data –using the Meal Analyser Tool.

The Meal Analyser is a tool that helps you join the dots – it takes the data and helps you use it to change the way you deliver meals. It is a software and service solution for measuring and improving environmental and economic value in public catering founded on credible, expert research specifically:

  • Developed from European funded research
    • Refined in partnership with the Local Authority Catering Association (LACA) and ASSIST FM Scotland
    • Designed to comply with Courtaulds 2030 Standard for Carbon Measurement and Reporting in Food & Drink

It can be used to:

  • Calculate the carbon emissions of specific dishes on your menus
    • Estimate the total carbon footprint of your service
    • Track where you are on your path to net zero
    • Plan how to reduce emissions further
    • Calculate your socioeconomic impact

How it works:

  1. We will hold an initial meeting with you to confirm your goals and agree scope/timeframe of analysis
  2. You supply your recipe and service information on a template that we provide
  3. We check your data and perform the analysis
  4. You receive a downloadable report, including ‘what if’ scenarios and guidance on emissions reduction

What does the report show you?

The report will show you the following key aeras:

  • Which categories of foods you buy, and their impact on emissions (e.g. meat, fruit and veg, diary etc)
  • A deeper dive into specific food groups and the items you bought within the specific food categories (e.g. frozen vs fresh veg, rice vs pasta)
  • Emissions breakdown of selected dishes (e.g. lasagne vs macaroni cheese)
  • The carbon footprint of your whole catering service from food production through to waste disposal
  • ‘What if’ scenarios and net zero implications i.e. what will happen if you make changes to your menu choices. The good news here is that carbon reduction goes hand in had with cost reduction. If you reduce red meat, the most expensive element of the menu, by 10% this will have an environmental and financial impact.

Positively, contractors are very receptive to moving towards Net Zero and using data generated from the Meal Analyser to do this. While it adds to the complexity, they recognise that they need to, and have to, do this. In addition, if you track your carbon emissions and work to reduce them, it will show you ways to reduce your costs and brings a more stringent discipline to performance management.

This is a collaborative, not a competitive, process. The supplier and the customers have access to the results so they can use this to win business with other clients as they can show evidence of their work. They can also use the data to benchmark with other suppliers. Smaller suppliers have just as much to gain as larger suppliers so it can level out the playing field.

The cost of using the Meal Analyser very much depends on the size of your operation and the current state of you your data. For further information on the Meal Analyser tool, or on any of the things mentioned here, please contact:

John Edwards:

Angela Tregear:

Adam Wilkinson:

You may also be interested in a webinar that we ran with John, Angela and Adam that covers this topic in more depth.

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