This Earth Day, we’re talking about Climate Change

solar panels on hillside
Emma Keller, Head of Sustainability, writes for nestle.co.uk on why this Earth Day we’re talking about climate change and the road ahead to address it.

In my role at Nestlé UK&I as Head of Sustainability I’m responsible for leading on the development and delivery of our broader sustainability strategy to ensure our business and the products we make are delivering for people and planet.

One of the key areas I am particularly passionate about is tackling climate change and that’s why this Earth Day, that’s exactly what we’re talking about...

soil

Earth day 2021

It’s 51 years since the first Earth Day mobilised more than 20 million Americans to call for increased protections for the planet. Since then it has become an Internationally important day which has played a huge role in lifting environmental issues onto the world stage and giving a voice to nature.

Earth Day this year feels particularly significant given the context we are living in. It’s both a day to take pause and reflect on the state of our planet and the inextricable link between human and planetary health that the pandemic has thrown into sharp focus; but also an opportunity to engage with those around us and to double down on our efforts to tackle some of the biggest challenges we face as society – the climate and nature emergencies.

What feels particularly different this year is that there is no longer a debate about the need to do better for the planet. The debate is about the what, the how and the how fast can we go. The race to zero is on. No one company, government, NGO or individual can tackle climate change, it’s only by us all playing our respective parts that we can get there.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges for this generation to tackle and it also poses one of the greatest risks to the future of our business. Our responsibility to act is clear.

Our climate change roadmap

Last December (2020), we at Nestlé announced our commitment to halve our GHG emissions by 2030 on our journey to become net zero by 2050, a goal aligned with science-based targets to keep within a 1.5 degree pathway. We also published our roadmap detailing how we are going to get there. We’ll be taking action across our whole supply chain, from farm to fork, broadly focusing on three key areas:

  • Shifting to regenerative agriculture – working with our farmer base to implement more regenerative practices that work in harmony with nature not against it. Starting with important ingredients like dairy, we’re working with suppliers like First Milk to reduce environmental impact and improve animal health and well-being.
  • Greening our operations and logistics – transitioning to renewable energy to manufacture and transport our products. We’ve made good headway here in the UK & Ireland, already reducing the GHG footprint by 61% per tonne of product produced since 2007.
  • Transforming our product packaging and portfolio – we’re committed to making 100% of our packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025 and cutting virgin plastic by a third in the same timeframe. We’ll also be innovating and renovating our portfolio to make it healthier and more sustainable as well as exploring opportunities to shift to more plant-based ingredients.
food grade

Focusing on farming

Changing the ways we farm to produce food is no easy task. It fundamentally comes down to behaviour change.

At Nestlé, we’re investing CHF 1.2 billion to help ignite a shift towards more regenerative agriculture across our supply chain, as part of a total investment of CHF 3.2 billion by 2025. We’ll be working to support our farmers to implement a range of practices to reduce the environmental impact of ingredients. Switching from chemical to organic fertilisers, planting cover crops to provide soil cover and increase soil fertility, limiting soil disturbance, moving cattle between lands to fertilise the soil and planting trees and hedgerows to promote biodiversity and water management– are just some of the practices we’ll be supporting.

As well as working with individual and groups of farmers, we’ll also be taking a more holistic landscape scale approach to work in collaboration with others to deliver a suite of environmental outcomes at scale. The LENS – Landscape Enterprise Network – is one such model we’re supporting.

Deforestation is another of the most significant sources of emissions associated with our ingredients. We’ll be focusing on ending deforestation in our primary supply chains by 2022, accelerating our use of a range of tools including certification, supply chain mapping and satellite imagery to get us there. But stopping deforestation won’t be enough and we need to ensure we’re playing an active role in forest conservation and restoration and so we’ve committed to planting 20 million trees every year for the next 10 years.

Earlier this month, Nestlé joined forces with others to launch the Rimba Collective. It’s an initiative to support the restoration of more than 500,000 hectares of tropical forest landscapes in Southeast Asia, an important sourcing region for palm oil. Nature-based solutions like this are going to be essential in the shift to regenerative systems in the fight against climate change.

The role of our brands

Ultimately, we need to be able to demonstrate action on climate change through the brands and products that we sell to help consumers to make better choices for them and for the planet. In Nestlé UK&I, we have 80 brands and 97% of households consume a Nestlé product, from confectionery products like KitKat and Smarties to coffee favourites like Nespresso and Nescafé Dolce Gusto. Each of these brands have different challenges and opportunities when it comes to addressing their carbon footprint and so will be at different stages of their journey to net zero.

Just ahead of Earth day this year, KitKat, one of the world’s most popular chocolate brands, pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025. To achieve this target will involve reducing the emissions from the sourcing of its ingredients, particularly the cocoa and dairy which make up a large proportion of the footprint. Efforts will also be focused on improving the manufacturing process and energy used in distribution to ensure a reduction of more than 50% as part of the plan.

smarties paper bags

Some of our other brands are moving towards carbon neutrality too with the Garden Gourmet range of plant-based alternatives to traditional meat dishes, set to be certified carbon neutral by 2022 largely through use of plant-based ingredients and more localised sourcing. Every cup of Nespresso coffee will also be carbon neutral in the same timeframe, building on more than 10 years of work to reduce emissions across its business operations and working with the coffee growers to improve practices and plant trees that sequester carbon, improve soil fertility and can also help to improve the quantity and quality of the coffee yield – a win-win.

And more brands will be following suit.

Our employees as our greatest asset

We all have a role to play in reducing our environmental impact and can do so in both our personal and professional lives. At Nestle, we know our employees are our greatest asset and when we have a shared goal, we can achieve great things. This Earth Day, we’re hosting an internal event open to all our 8,000 employees in the UK & Ireland to talk about climate change and engage and inspire them on action that can be taken.

As we look ahead to the global climate change conference, COP26, that will take place in Glasgow in November, we’ll all be looking to our political and business leaders to set us on a path of ambitious climate action over the next decade. And we can’t afford for them to fail.

While political action is fundamental, we can’t rely on it alone. If we are to succeed in achieving our goals and collectively limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, action on climate change needs to be on everyone’s to do list.

Read more about our plan to be net zero by 2050.