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Are you in the race to Net Zero?

A little-known fact is that the Health and Social Care sector is purportedly responsible for around 6% of all carbon emissions in the UK.  And, in the wake of COP 26 and as sustainable sourcing, waste issues, and the question of carbon footprints continue to dominate our media headlines, Lee Sheppard, Director of Corporate Affairs and Policy for leading meals producer, apetito, takes a look at how apetito is working in partnership with its customers to support their sustainability commitments, as well as give some useful guidance as to how care villages can make a real difference and take some easy steps when entering the race to Net Zero.

One of the first questions we are always asked is WHY – why should the climate change agenda be important to me as a care village operator?  A decade ago, Net Zero was a phrase that very few of us were familiar with.  And now, the question is, “Does Net Zero matter to me and my organisation?”

Whether young or old, whether an employing business or an employee – climate impacts us all. Understanding why is critical for any organisation to embrace the work that needs to be done – there are legal, moral, financial, health, environmental and many more reasons to address climate change and these will vary by business and by individual.   

For us, here at apetito, our overriding ethos is that ‘it is the right thing to do’.  Business should be sustainable, we have a duty of care for next generations and it is important to everyone in our organisation.

What many businesses are slow to realise is that there is also a compelling business case to move to Net Zero – through creating real competitive advantage.  At a time where recruitment is proving more challenging than ever, employees are looking for organisations with real social purpose – attracting and retaining talent is key to any business and a commitment to net zero will prove to be a key factor in making your business stand apart.

We must also recognise that the care sector is a competitive space, and that occupancy is king – what makes families and residents choose your village as a home for their loved ones? Undoubtedly a commitment to addressing climate change will become increasingly important over time and more importantly set you apart from those that don’t choose to “lead” in this space

The pressures that Covid has brought to bear on homes and care villages over the past two years, has meant that in many cases, sustainability may not have been at the forefront of immediate decision making.  Safety of residents and staff and ensuring consistency of service has been paramount.  But COP26 has brought the issues of Net Zero full circle, and no-one can fail to be aware of the importance of taking action – and taking it now.

So, the question is, where do you start?

The key thing here is to focus on doing the right thing. In recent months too many organisations are making hollow “Net Zero commitments” that are simply not backed up with credibility or action. The Competition and Markets Authority have recognised this, revealing that up to 40% of Green claims made by businesses re misleading customers – and they are seeking to clamp down on those that do so. 

Making a REAL difference…

As a care home village, there are obvious places to target when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint and interestingly, many of these generate financial savings as well.

The first place to start is by gaining the necessary support and commitment from everyone in your organisation and particularly in the C-suite. Don’t underestimate the importance of this – once you have sorted the “why” for your organisation and employees, gaining traction is so much easier.

Then you need to manage your current carbon footprint – in simple terms you cannot manage what you cannot measure. There are tools and organisations that can help you do this regardless of size and scale of your business, including free resources  For example, check out the Business Climate Hub on UK – SME Climate hub (businessclimatehub.org) or check out the Carbon Trust with its SME Carbon Footprint Calculator on www.carbonfootprint.com

You then need to set your targets for decarbonisation and ensure that these are consistent with a 1.5-degree pathway required to meet Net Zero. Too many businesses fall into the trap of making a “commitment” without science-based targets – having no idea what they need to achieve. Science-based targets are not marketing driven but driven by climate science and ensure that you focus on actually removing greenhouse gases, and not simply offsetting.

Once you understand your footprint and the targets you need to achieve you can focus on action and projects to remove carbon from your own operations and supply chain. One important factor is that in order to support Net Zero commitments, groups will need their suppliers to mirror their same values and food providers have a major role to play.  Here at apetito, we are proud of our progressive stance to reducing carbon in our own business, as well as the work we are doing to support our customers in this respect.

In 2021 we set out our clear carbon commitment to Net Zero. By setting out our three-stage carbon commitment we’re taking action now; being held accountable for our actions and not simply making claims without a commitment to act. All our targets are independently validated by the Science Based Targets initiative to actually decarbonise our business on the right pathway. We believe our three-stage carbon commitment is one of the strongest of any company in the UK.

Enjoy cost benefits with four areas to focus upon!

Whilst every organisation will vary in terms of where its carbon comes from, there are certainly 4 key areas that care villages can look at – importantly, these will generate cash savings hand in hand with carbon savings.

Energy…

Energy efficiency is likely to be a significant contributor towards the carbon footprint of your business.  The BRE Trust – a charity which focuses on research, standards, and qualifications to make the built environment a better place, with funding from BEIS, have created a bespoke energy assessment tool. They can identify energy efficiency improvements, find funding where available, as well as provide information on suppliers and contractors. The BRE Trust is a government sponsored scheme so you can be sure of its reputation and according to their claims you could recoup your investment in less than one year, which is an attractive proposition.

Here at apetito we have increased the efficiency of our kitchens while reducing the energy used and therefore carbon produced.  We’ve moved forward with two cutting edge projects and a £4.8 million investment which involves upgrading the kitchens with new technology to meet our challenging Net Zero targets.

For example, new cooking vessels with direct steam injection, speed up cooking times and reduce the total energy required for each kilogram of sauce or casserole produced.  All saving approximately 100 tonnes of CO 2e per annum. Investing in new boiler technology to increase efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint. The efficiency of steam production will increase from 79% to 95% and the new boiler will save 348 tonnes of CO 2e – a near 20% improvement in carbon emissions compared to the previous system.

Travel and Logistics…..

The second opportunity is likely to be travel and fuel.  Prior to the pandemic, the Health and Social Care sector was responsible for 5% of all road journeys. At a Corporate level, look at an electric vehicle fleet – with the move away from diesel and the development of battery technology, EV’s are a real alternative, not to mention they create massive tax advantages for each employee. Make a commitment to an electric fleet to signal your intent.

Your employees commute to work will also impact on your organisations carbon footprint; therefore question what can you do to promote better commuting, such as a simple introduction of a cycle to work scheme.

As a key partner to the care home, healthcare and social care sectors, here at apetito, we have taken steps within our own business:  We’re working hard to reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution by over 2,000 tonnes of CO 2e per year by 2025, with a focus on three key projects to help us achieve this.

Since 2021, we’ve started introducing electric delivery vans into our Meals on Wheels business when the current vehicles are replaced. In early 2022, we also began using electric delivery vans for some of our customers. Our ambition is to have at least 50% of our fleet of vans electric by 2025. As an organisation, we’re not only responsible for the preparation of our food, but the distribution and delivery to our customers.

Food and Agriculture…

It will come as no surprise that one of the biggest areas where savings can be made is that of the provision of food within a care village. 

It’s also true that agriculture has one of the largest impacts on carbon emissions.  Animal proteins and in particular, red meat and dairy, have real carbon challenges.  There has been much talk of the need to move to plant based diets to help tackle climate change, but this comes with its own challenge when it comes to residents’ choice, availability, and cost. 

Waste not, want not!

All of us can identify strongly with the issue of waste and especially that of plastic and recycling.  It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.  It’s important that we all look to ‘reduce, re-use and recycle’.

However, the reality is that UK recycling infrastructure is simply not up to the task of the levels of recycling that we require.  The UK has inadequate facilities and inconsistent collection and recycling regimes across the country.  At the moment in the UK, we only recycle 50% of the plastic packaging that’s put on the market and we send 61% of our plastic packaging abroad for ‘processing’ amidst much doubt as to what actually happens to it.

The key message here is that whilst important, “recycling” is the bottom “rung” on the ladder of the “reduce-reuse-recycle” approach.

The UK Plastics Pact has identified key plastics that need to be eliminated and highlighted substitutes or alternatives that can be used. It’s worth taking time to look at how you can make changes within your business through taking some easy steps.

It’s estimated that in the UK, we throw away 30% of the food that we buy and it’s worth checking out WRAP (The Waste and Resource Action Group) WRAP – Circular Economy & Resource Efficiency Experts which has some excellent materials which can help support targets and goals.  Guardians of Grub https://guardiansofgrub.com is another initiative with many tools to help businesses with savings calculators – all designed to help reduce waste.

Communication is key…

There is a strong business case for entering the race to Net Zero but it’s also important to communicate what you are doing – as (aside of being the right way to do business), this can add significant value to your village’s appeal for residents, friends, and family. 

Collaboration

The reality here is that no-one has all the answers or a simple blueprint of how to address the challenge of climate change. More than in any other space, the importance of collaboration is key – find yourself industry bodies, best-practice groups, use widely available resources and work together trialling solutions for your industry.

We are incredibly proud of the work we are doing here at apetito which enables us to deliver our customers meals that are not only superb quality, delicious and are enjoyed by thousands of care home residents, but meals that are sustainable, support the very core of our environment and are created with the utmost care and respect for our planet.

The old proverb “together we are stronger” is never more poignant than when considering the impact of how, by working collaboratively across the industry with partners, suppliers, and manufacturers, we can help tackle climate change, support our environment, represent best practice, and importantly make a real difference before it is too late.

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