Achieving ‘Mission Zero’

As a Site Director for Cranswick Convenience Foods in Milton Keynes, I work with 750 permanent colleagues. We make deli and cooked meats for UK retailers, operating 24 hours per day 7 days per week. Our colleagues cook and prepare meat for our customers before slicing and packaging products ready to be distributed to their stores throughout the UK. I took over the site in March 2018, and have been intent on driving positive change since.

I am so proud of the team and how we’ve managed to go over and above this year, and what this pandemic has shown me is that collaboration has never been so important. We’re working behind the scenes to feed the nation and how we’ve pulled together as an industry has shown us the way things can be. I’ve realised that part of this is being more open and honest about how we are moving forwards.

You can’t ‘complete’ sustainability. Frustrating as it might be for those who enjoy crossing tasks off a list, sustainability is an ongoing journey — there’s always more to be done. This is perhaps why a lot of businesses find the idea of addressing their environmental impact so overwhelming, but also why targets and goals along the way are so important.

Cranswick’s next major aim is to be Net Zero by 2040–10 years ahead of the government’s own net zero target. This is an ambitious undertaking, so we’ve planned a number of milestones to get us there. This week I’m pleased to announce that we’ve hit one of them: our Milton Keynes site is now entirely carbon neutral.

Carbon neutral is not the same as net zero, I get that, but it’s progress that we’re proud of. Thanks to the efforts of all of our colleagues and working within Cranswick’s Second Nature sustainability strategy, we’ve already made massive strides in reducing overall emissions from the Milton Keynes site, eliminating 5,421 tonnes of CO2e since 2016 — that’s a 50% absolute reduction.

We’ve done this by investing in more efficient equipment and machinery, generating our own electricity and most of our heat and steam through a combined heat and power unit and by switching to entirely 100% renewable electricity. This means all the electricity used by the site is zero emissions.

Investing in the future

But there’s still more to be done. The nature of our business means we have a unique set of environmental challenges specific to the meat industry, particularly around agriculture and deforestation, and we’re working hard to address those.

And, of course, we’re not at net zero yet. Eliminating the emissions we are still creating is a key focus for us. Until then, though, we’re mitigating our remaining carbon impact with high quality offsets that have been verified and validated by certification bodies Gold Standard and Verra. This has taken us to carbon neutral.

The projects that we’ve chosen are in keeping with Cranswick’s aims for a sustainable global food system: food security and carbon reduction:

High quality offsets all of which are registered and validated by the two largest carbon bodies: Verra and Gold Standard
High quality offsets all of which are registered and validated by the two largest carbon bodies: Verra and Gold Standard
  • The first project is an investment in tree-planting with the Restoration Project in Northumberland — the largest woodland restoration project in the UK for 30 years, which is paired with a geothermal project in Indonesia, which is helping to drive the uptake of renewable energy in the area.
  • The second project, , enables us to help forest-based communities access training and education, as well as protect the vital eco-systems and carbon sinks that are critical in the fight against climate change.
  • A third project supports the , which is designed to reduce deforestation and improve the health, wellbeing and food security of local communities.

Altogether, these projects are enabling us to offset 5,619 tonnes of CO2e from our Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

The question of cop outs

I realise carbon offsetting is often criticised as being something of a ‘cop out’. It’s certainly true that in an ideal world we’d be able to simply get rid of our remaining emissions at source, rather than having to offset them, but until we can do that (and again, we’re working on it) carbon offsetting is the best thing we can do to keep moving forward on our sustainability journey.

We have to take a global view of sustainability, and the projects that we’re backing are designed to integrate sustainable practices across the globe. This means that when we do reach net zero, communities in places like Ghana and the Amazon will be in a better position to support their own sustainable futures. This funding is essentially shifting the economic incentives of the Global South towards sustainability and away from fossil fuel-based economies — and that benefits everyone.

Offsets are ultimately an investment in the future, but they’re certainly not the end goal — they represent our continued sustainability efforts while we work towards getting our site and supply chain emissions as close to zero as possible by 2040. And it won’t stop there. Beyond 2040 we’ll be working on achieving negative emissions through carbon removal. According to the IPCC, this will be vital if we’re to avoid the worst effects of climate change that will take place if we don’t keep global temperature increase below 1.5°C.

What’s next

Getting to net zero is no easy task, but achieving carbon neutrality means we’re on the right path. We’ll keep looking at investment opportunities and encouraging our colleagues to make changes on an individual basis — global change starts at a local level, after all. But a lot of our success will come down to patience, and trial and error. Many opportunities materialise gradually, namely because technologies and investments that are currently unfeasible will become more cost-effective with time. Electric vehicles are a good example of this.

What’s most important, though, is that our site has put carbon at the centre of all of our conversations bringing key site members on board such as the engineering team and senior leadership team, and these are conversations we want to have with everyone — our customers, suppliers and industry peers alike.

I hope you’ll follow us on our journey to net zero — I want to share the grey areas, the bits that didn’t work as we expected, as well as those that did. And if you’re on the same journey, it would be great to share experiences.

Cranswick Site Director leading my team and business to an inclusive Net Zero future that can feed the world sustainably.