Compass Future of Food event: sustainability makes business sense

21 July 2021 by
Compass Future of Food event: sustainability makes business sense

At an event held in London this week, Compass gathered together partners and sustainability experts to discuss the climate crisis and how, by working together, food businesses can reduce their carbon emissions and help the planet.

Sustainability is a hot topic for all businesses around the globe, but with the food system responsible for 13 billion tonnes of carbon-equivalent emissions annually, foodservice giant Compass hosted a ‘Future of Food' event in London to discuss how the industry can work together to tackle the climate crisis.

The event bought together industry leaders to stimulate debate around the complex journey towards achieving net zero. What was quickly made clear was that businesses have a responsibility to make big changes to address the climate crisis, but these changes also make business sense. Clients and end-consumers are crying out for ways to become more sustainable and want to spend their money with companies that reflect their desires to improve their diet, in terms of both their health and the planet.

Dominic Blakemore, group chief executive of Compass Group, said it was fascinating to see the UK leading the way in terms of addressing the climate crisis, but he is seeing acceleration in the debate all over the globe.

He described a conversation he'd had with the chief executive of a Brazilian healthcare group: "I said to him, ‘what do we need to do to win more business?' to which he replied we need to do more on the sustainability agenda."

Blakemore said inclusion, decarbonisation and the use of digital are being discussed in all conversations with Compass clients. "So as a business, we need to have a strong view in terms of leadership," he said. "If we can pull together and collaborate, it will have a truly meaningful impact."

Businesses can make a difference

Diane Holdorf, managing director of food and nature of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said sustainability was a "hugely important business issue".

"We have to work on this for the security of business, but it gives business an opportunity too. We can play a big role in addressing climate challenges."

If we can't take on this challenge head on and act on it, who can? The race to zero is on – and the key word is race: how can we get there quickly?

Speaking on a panel during the event, Emma Keller, head of sustainability at Nestlé UK & Ireland, described how when she switched jobs from WWF to Nestlé, many people thought she had "moved over to the dark side", but she said she took on the role because she felt businesses are a "force for good" when it comes to sustainability.

"If we can't take on this challenge head on and act on it, who can? The race to zero is on – and the key word is race: how can we get there quickly?"

Many organisations, including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the University of Oxford and the UK's Net Zero Business Champion Andrew Griffith MP, praised Compass for its ambitions to become net zero by 2030, an initiative it announced back in May. The commitments saw the foodservice group also announce the launch of a £1m seed investment fund towards sustainable food production innovation and its plans to convert around 40% of its meat-based meals to plant-based alternatives by 2030.

But the speakers at the conference were clear in saying sustainable change cannot be done in silo. "This is a team game and not something anyone can do by themselves," said Robin Mills, managing director, Compass Group UK and Ireland. "We're too reliant on each other to set out on our own path."

Carolyn Ball, director for the delivery of net zero at Compass Group UK and Ireland who took up the position to help the business meet its commitments, added: "It will be a hollow victory if we get [to net zero by 2030] without enlisting the wider support for real, radical, transformative change… It's a commercial imperative as much as an environmental one."

Education is key

One of the messages from the conference, which was held in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster on Tuesday afternoon, was that education is key way to address the climate crisis.

Ryan Holmes, culinary director B&I for Compass UK and Ireland, said it's not just about educating Compass clients, but also the end consumer and chefs internally. He described how, in order to encourage people to eat more sustainably, he and his team use a "nudging technique", because "no one likes to be dictated to".

He said he doesn't label any of his dishes vegan or vegetarian, and meat-based meals are placed towards the back in workplace canteens, which encourages people to make better choices.

Holme's subtle approach includes making a hero out of vegetables on menus and using labels such as "great British produce", as well as reducing the amount of meat in a dish, rather than removing the option entirely.

"At one of our manufacturing contracts, our plant-based dishes and healthier choices have become the most popular," he said. "It's important that anything plant-based is there with purpose, not to tick a box. They need to contain the right amount of protein and fibre and at least two of your five a day. It's not about a cheesy pasta anymore, it's about really good dishes."

Tackling food waste is also incredibly important to help businesses and consumers alike hit their carbon-neutral goals.

Nicola Weir, director of WorldClimate at Deloitte said: "65 billion litres of water are use on potatoes that we throw in the bin – the numbers are just frightening. We've got to all force this change in the system and educate people and change the process."

Meanwhile, Keller's key takeaway was to waste less. "Don't waste food, energy or time. We know enough; we have more data that we've ever had. Let's crack on."

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