Your net zero plan

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Understand your business emissions

1. What causes emissions

Scope 1 and 2 emissions

As an SME in food and drink manufacturing sector, you are directly responsible for:
  • direct emissions from sources that a company owns or controls (scope 1 emissions)
  • indirect emissions from energy bought and consumed by the company (scope 2 emissions)

These greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions include:

  • fuel burned on site for cooking or heating
  • vehicles you own or control
  • refrigerant gases
  • purchased electricity 
  • process emissions

The GHG Protocol (Corporate Standard) is widely used to report carbon emissions to the government, suppliers, investors and others. To comply with the GHG Protocol you must measure Scopes 1 and 2.

Scope 3 emissions

Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions that occur upstream (from the supply chain) and downstream of your organisation (through customer use) . 

According to GOV UK research, scope 3 emissions can account for 80-95% of a company’s carbon footprint.

Scope 3 emissions in the food and drink manufacturing sector typically come from:

  • purchased goods and services
  • the use of sold products
  • employee commuting
  • business travel including accommodation
  • employees working from home
  • water usage
  • waste and purchased goods and services

For more guidance on scope 3 emissions, visit:

2. Why you should take action to reduce emissions  

Knowing how much carbon your business produces is an important step for managing costs and moving towards net zero.

In addition, many large food and drink businesses are asking their suppliers to calculate their emissions and reduce them.

Large businesses are collaborating with their suppliers to help them meet new environmental requirements in the procurement process. 

Large businesses are helping suppliers to:

  • prepare a Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP): a document that summarises current emissions and plans for reducing these
  • identify onsite energy reduction opportunities and improve GHG reporting

Visit how to become a ‘net-zero’ ready supplier to find out more about the procurement process and CRPs.

3. Use free tools to calculate your emissions

Collect data for a 12-month period for the main activities which release carbon emissions in your organisation.

Choose one of the free carbon calculators to help record your calculate emissions in metric tonnes per year. 

This will give you an emissions baseline which serves as a foundation for understanding your current emissions.

You can use this as a reference point against which you can:

  • identify where your emission hotspots 
  • measure changes in your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions going forward

Visit Measure your carbon emissions to find out more about what data is required and how to get started.

As a final step, you could also consider hiring a sustainability consultant.

4. Sign up for the SME Climate Commitment

Make a public commitment to achieve net zero by 2050 or earlier. 

You can sign up to the SME Climate Commitment

To align with the SME Climate Commitment, enterprises will need to do their utmost to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% before 2030, using 2019 or later as the base year. 

This means that Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions must be cut in half by 2030 at the latest. Businesses should also aim to halve their most material Scope 3 emissions by 2030.

You can publish your commitment on your website and in reports to:

  • let your stakeholders know your targets
  • show customers you are committed to reducing emissions

Get financial support in your region

These support schemes and networks are available in Greater London:

  • Better Futures+ provides up to £1,000 in free business support for London-based businesses with at least two full-time employees and turnover between £100,000 and £43M
  • Brent Business Climate Charter – as part of the Brent Business Climate Charter, participating organisations can gain 6 month’s free access to Climate Essentials’ online tool to measure your energy usage and carbon emissions (first come first served).
  • Greater London Fund invests in early stage companies with an average investment of £400,000 to £1M – part of the fund is set aside for companies that reduce waste
  • Greater London Investment Fund offers loans from £100,000 to £1M to limited company SMEs – repayment term is 3 to 5 years and interest rates vary
  • Heart of the City helps SMEs with the fundamentals of net zero, measuring carbon footprints, setting targets and disclosing progress. They have a free climate action toolkit, and in-depth course that’s free if you have less than 250 based in, or with more than 50% of your operations in the Square Mile, or you’re an SME supplier or tenant of the City of London Corporation
  • Climate Essentials for Business – Climate Essentials has partnered with Westminster Council to offer free tools and support to help businesses’ reduce their carbon footprint. The programme includes access to a carbon calculator, a customised reduction strategy, 1:1 support from Climate Essentials’ expert team, and detailed reports outlining emissions and progress. This support is available for Westminster-based businesses with fewer than 250 employees, turnover less than £36m, and a total balance sheet less than £18m.

Take action right now

This quick wins section identifies actions you can take right now to reduce your carbon emissions.

1. Change your lighting

Lighting consumes 20% of all energy generated in the UK and is a major cost for SMEs in office spaces. Change to LED bulbs to significantly reduce your energy use. 

Installing automated lighting controls, such as occupancy or daylight sensors will also improve your energy efficiency.

Find out more about how you can save on lighting.

2. Change your energy tariff

Switch to a green energy tariff with your energy supplier. This will reduce your reliance on energy produced by fossil fuels.

3. Save energy and money on heating 

Heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems are the largest source of energy use for commercial and industrial buildings.

Quick, low-cost actions include:

  • timed thermostats
  • window seal for extra insulation
  • draught excluders on doors
  • smart meters to see and control how much energy you use
  • solar film on windows

Find out more about how your simple changes to your HVAC system can increase efficiency and reduce costs.

4. Review and maintain your refrigeration system

You can reduce energy consumption by 2–4% if the set cooling temperature can be increased by 1°C.

Install fixed point refrigerant leak detection systems to minimise fugitive emissions.

Use low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and passive cooling.

Establish a simple maintenance schedule to save on energy and costs. Your equipment will gradually use more energy and eventually break down if it is not properly maintained.

With refrigerators and freezers, make sure you:

  • follow defrost procedures
  • check door seals on cold rooms, fridges and frozen food stores
  • keep chiller and freezer door openings to a minimum
  • keep condensers clean and free of dust
  • check systems have the correct amount of refrigerant
  • maintain correct temperatures and avoid over-cooling

Reconfigure kitchen layouts so that ovens and heaters are not placed next to fridges or freezers.

Visit the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Climate Action Roadmap to learn more about reducing emissions from refrigeration

5. Decide if you need an energy strategy

Walk around your buildings to see if energy is being used efficiently

  • look at lighting, machinery, heating, refrigeration systems and ventilation
  • identify wasteful energy use and maintenance issues
  • check at different times of day and compare day and night time use
  • monitor over a period of a week for accurate average figures
  • make sure equipment is checked and cleaned regularly to ensure maximum efficiency

Depending on the size of your business, you might need to implement an energy management strategy. An energy manager will help you:

  • measure and monitor energy use.
  • target ways to use energy as efficiently as possible

Find out more about developing an energy strategy from the Carbon Trust.

6. Train your team

You can train your team to be aware of energy efficiency in the workplace.

Start with simple actions such as water-saving initiatives and a ‘switch off policy’ in staff areas. Turning off and unplugging devices and lights when they’re not being used can make a difference.

You could assign your energy management programme to a particular job role or working group, depending on the size of your business. This helps make energy savings a business priority and ensures long-term action despite staff turnover.

Find a sustainability training course to help you train your team.

7. Switch employees’ travel habits

You could introduce a cycle-to-work initiative or encourage them to take public transport if you have employees. It also makes sense to offer work from home where possible.

Select lowest carbon travel options wherever feasible.

Find out more about how to switch your employees’ modes of transport.

8. Reduce emissions on food and drink

You can reduce carbon emissions by:

  • offering locally sourced and seasonal produce
  • highlighting ‘low-carbon’ options on menus
  • growing or producing herbs on-site
  • introducing a meat-free day in employee restaurants

9. Manage your waste

Separate and monitor your waste.

Take steps to:

  • minimise waste by planning recipes that make efficient use of raw materials
  • explore innovative ways to redistribute or donate surplus food
  • plan and order carefully to avoid overstocking and wastage
  • train your staff on product shelf life, expiry dates and portion control

Recycle as much of your waste as you can to prevent it being taken to landfill sites where it takes longer to break down and causes more emissions. Train your staff on your recycling plan.

You could consider investing in a food waste composter or digestor to reduce your waste.

Find out more about your waste-related obligations and how to manage your waste.

10. Manage your water

You can save on water consumption by:

  • monitoring your water consumption for indications of leaking taps, toilets and pipes
  • installing low-flow taps and toilets
  • installing water displacement devices in toilets
  • harvesting rain water using a water butt
  • installing a water recycling system

Take longer term action

1. Make energy efficiency improvements to your workplace

You can make longer-term savings on energy bills by:

Check planning permission guidelines before you go ahead with any structural changes to the property.

You can download a free copy of DESNZ’s sponsored BS ISO 50005 energy management standard via the British Standards Institute website.

The standard provides SMEs with a means to develop a practical, low cost-approach to energy management to reduce their energy consumption, energy bills and carbon footprint.

2. Invest in good quality storage equipment

Good quality storage equipment will make sure ingredients have the best chance of staying fresher for longer.

You should consider replacing kitchen equipment:

  • that is over 15 years old
  • with the models using the European A–G efficiency label

3. Install renewable energy 

You might consider installing renewable sources of energy if you are the legal owner of your property. 

You can install:

With on-site generation and storage, you could make significant long-term savings on energy bills.

4. Reduce emissions from freight and logistics

Over a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions are caused by transport. 

You can take these steps to minimise carbon emissions:

  • improve delivery routes to minimise travel distances
  • use low emission and fuel-efficient transportation such as rail and shipping for raw material sourcing
  • source raw materials for food products from as close as possible
  • use appropriate delivery vehicles to maximise fill ratios
  • reduce emissions when transporting refrigerated goods

Find out more about how to reduce emissions from freight and logistics.

5. Transition to electric vehicles

You can reduce emissions if you use a work vehicle by switching to electric vehicles. You would be exempt from road tax, congestion charges and parking fees in certain areas.

For easy overnight charging you could install EV chargers at your home or workplace.

Visit our page to find out more about installing chargepoints.

6. Use sustainable product packaging

Use packaging that is:

  • compact – oversized packaging is often filled with unnecessary air
  • lightweight – consider using packaging made from a single material to facilitate recycling for consumers

Replace plastic with recycled or compostable substitutes.

Eliminate single-use plastic straws and stirrers.

Use sustainable packing such as:

  • plant-based packaging
  • edible packaging – made from seaweed extract
  • compostable and biodegradable plastic alternatives
  • plantable packaging which is made from seeds and can be buried in soil

7. Get product labels and certifications

You can use low carbon labels (otherwise known as eco labels or green stickers)and sustainability certifications to show that your products:

  • meet environmental standards
  • are reducing emissions

Visit our page to find out more about how to get low carbon product labels and certifications.

8. Reformulate food and drink products to reduce emissions

You can also reduce emissions through ingredient substitutions and new product development. Actions include using:

  • plant-based ingredients
  • dairy alternatives
  • lower-GHG food ingredients

9. Decarbonise process heat

Take steps to reduce carbon emissions from production and cold storage and move towards net-zero.

You can do this by upgrading to more efficient equipment, optimising production processes, and implementing energy management systems.

Visit these pages to find out more about how to:

Make changes in your food and drink supply chain

To reduce indirect or ‘supply chain’ emissions you need to consider what happens before and after your business provides a service or makes a product.

1. Choose greener suppliers and products (upstream)

You can reduce your upstream emissions by:

  • using sustainability-conscious suppliers who actively measure and disclose their emissions
  • including energy efficiency in your procurement considerations
  • buying products that take less energy to make, transport and operate
  • helping your suppliers with their carbon reduction plans

You can ask your suppliers:

Tell your suppliers to visit how to become a ‘net-zero’ ready supplier to find out more about the steps they can take to implement an effective carbon reduction strategy.

2. Reduce impacts from the use and disposal of your products (downstream) 

You can reduce downstream emissions by:

Track and share your progress

You will need to regularly monitor and report your emissions data against your established baseline.

As part of the SME Climate Commitment, the SME Reporting Tool helps small businesses create annual sustainability reports and track their reduction efforts.

You should make your report publicly available to show what your company is doing to meet its targets and the impact of your initiatives on your company’s emissions.

You can integrate reported data into annual business reports, your website, or directly distribute to customers and funders.

Find out more about how to track and share your progress.

Get further help and advice on reducing emissions for the food and drink sector

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF)– offers its members guidance on decarbonisation. In 2021, they published a handbook for achieving net zero (PDF).

You can also visit UKHospitality’s Roadmap to net zero.

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) provides funding for developing innovative products, processes or services in the food industry

Find out more about FareShare, the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors.

The Soil Association is a membership charity which offers support for food and drink clients.

To find out more on how to engage with your suppliers, visit:

Related links

Visit our case studies to find out how food and drink manufacturers are making progress on their journey to net zero.

Net Zero: the basics in 30 seconds gives an overview of what you can find on our website to help you start on the path to net zero.

7 Steps to sustainability: we recommend you follow these steps to make a significant impact on the environment and society while also benefiting your bottom line.

Take part in the UK Net Zero Business Census
Take part in the UK Net Zero Business Census