For most primary sector producers, consumers’ carbon expectations have been largely something for distant overseas markets, particularly the European Union and United Kingdom.
But the call for greater supply chain transparency and carbon footprinting is coming increasingly close to home.
Of the two main players in New Zealand’s $20 billion-a-year supermarket and grocery sector, Countdown’s supermarkets appear to be positioning themselves as the most advanced in emissions measuring and reduction.
The chain has sliced its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by almost half in a few short years, and once that low-hanging fruit is picked, it has Scope 3 emissions in its sights. These are emissions from suppliers, including farmers and growers.
Scope 3 emissions account for 98% of the chain’s total carbon footprint. The plan to reduce these by 19% by 2030 puts the primary sector on notice.
It also makes the continued wrangling around He Waka Eke Noa and regulated reduction targets something of a sideshow to market reality.
Countdown already has pilot trials in play with over a dozen growers and suppliers of produce, looking at how it can help them identify and reduce emissions across a range of food categories including meat and dairy.
While the New Zealand domestic market is only a small part of the primary sector’s total production, it signals a firm knock from the carbon auditor on the sector’s door that is loud and local.
It is a knock the sector should feel increasingly capable of answering.
Fonterra has lifted its Scope 1 and 2 reduction target from 30% to 50% by 2030 and is due any day to reveal to farmers how much it expects them to reduce their emissions, as Scope 3 suppliers.
Seasoned from years of working to improve water quality, many dairy farmers may well find emissions reduction an easier win, one that also delivers improved profits.
Meantime the red meat sector is also answering the carbon knock.
A visiting Sainsbury’s executive recently told Silver Fern Farms suppliers that they are years ahead in meeting the sustainability needs of the UK grocer’s customers, which include carbon, welfare and waste. He also noted how far they have come since his previous visit only four years earlier.
With a senior executive of a chain that accounts for 15% of the UK market heaping that sort of praise, the sector should take heart that expectations here at home will also be met.
The many different parts of an export carcase are destined for many different markets, so meeting the demands of such overseas consumers is assurance that the expectations of Kiwi consumers on carbon accountability will also be met.
But plenty of market research has also confirmed what consumers say they want and what they will pay for can differ.
Food prices continue to soar but supermarkets appear committed to ever lower carbon targets.
It means tension will only grow between the need to feed a family, and whether food suppliers can match carbon targets in a way that keeps them viable and their products still affordable.
Ultimately it will be consumers’ budgets and the need to feed whānau that will be the key determinant over planetary carbon emissions.