Towards Net Zero: Engaging the Full Supply Chain 

I spend a lot of time out walking, just for the sheer pleasure of being in the landscape.  It grounds me, helps me to reflect, and brings perspective to the issues that often occupy my mind as the owner of a small business.

Because of the work I do, I also look at this landscape and see the changes that have shaped it. Alongside the geological processes that have formed it over millennia, there are the actions of us as a species as we have developed it for agriculture, and to support the industries on which we have come to depend.  

This creates a juxtaposition between a world so apparently ancient and solid and a fragile environment that is being rapidly changed by our actions. And yet nature has a way of recovering; of softening and then obliterating our actions, and it will continue to do so long after we are gone.

Climate change is perhaps one of the biggest existential threats to humanity.  Addressing it requires significant changes in the way that we do things, and commitment from all levels within society and all parts of the supply chain for the products and services we consume. 

Change and resistance  

Take farmers, for example: addressing the causes of global warming will involve changes in the technology, machinery and processes used to produce crops or manage livestock. But there are opportunities for their practices to provide additional benefits to society, reducing the impacts of flooding and even removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere – deployment of ‘natural capital’ in ways that create significant land use change and alter our landscape forever.  

These changes can be costly. Some, such as new equipment and machinery, may require retraining. Others, like devoting areas to environmental land management, will mean that further changes need to be implemented in order to fully reap the benefits without decreasing productivity. So it’s easy to see why some may want to stay with their tried and tested methods. They will even acknowledge the impact that environmental changes are having on their livelihoods, but argue that the focus should be on other people making changes.  Their attention is often on immediate demand and the role they have in feeding the nation, rather than what happens in the future. And, to an extent, this is understandable.

How do we engage with all parts of the supply chain to make sustainable, long-term choices without impacting short-term revenues in a way that drives companies out of business?

While governments can incentivise farmers to make changes, these are often long-term schemes. The targets can be difficult to achieve while also ensuring that costs are met. Funding can be difficult to access, with large amounts of paperwork and evidence required before applications are accepted.

We all know we should be doing more towards net zero. It’s on the news, it’s all over the media; it’s everywhere we look. But how easy is it in reality to make the necessary changes? How do we engage with all parts of the supply chain to make sustainable, long-term choices without impacting short-term revenues in a way that drives companies out of business?

There has been a noticeable change in attitudes in many areas, and more and more people are seeing the need to take sustainability measures. But there is still a significant element that resists. 

However, engaging with these factions is vital.

Communication and innovation 

Without good communication, people don’t know what their options are or what is expected of them. They often won’t be aware of funding available to them, making changes even less likely to happen. After all, why make a change if you can’t see how it would benefit you? 

It’s also important to speak to those who are being required to make these changes, and really listen to what they have to say.  Many of those producing our food and produce have fantastic ideas.  We should be listening – and thinking about how to help them achieve their goals.

For many people, efforts towards sustainability and net zero will look like small changes to their daily lives; as simple as changing the lightbulbs in their home, purchasing more locally produced food, or choosing to walk more or catch the bus. But for others further up the supply chain like farmers (or light bulb manufacturers, or heating system suppliers…), making steps towards net zero can be a complicated process. Making the decision to act in a way that is more sustainable can be tough.

There are no right answers here, but there is a real need to support decision-makers who are seeking to implement changes with the evidence of where change can be effective.

We need to observe what happens as they make those changes and help them to deal with the unexpected consequences of their decisions, both good and bad. 

This is where those of us involved in net zero innovation need to be focussing our efforts over the next few years.  Now is not the time for invention, it is the time for action. Delivering net zero by 2050 is an urgent and complex challenge.  We will have to work hard to implement the low-carbon solutions that we have available to us right across society, and to make sure that we all see and experience the benefits this will provide.

Let’s make sure that we have all played our role in ensuring that humanity continues to thrive, and enjoy our landscape, for generations to come.

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