In late August this year, Scottish craft beer company BrewDog announced that it had become the world’s first beer business to become carbon negative. This means that the company now removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it generates.
According to its Sustainability Report, in 2019, BrewDog’s carbon footprint was 67,951 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) across its business. Starting August, the company said that it will be removing twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as it emits.
How has the company managed this, you might ask.
In an absolutely gangster move, BrewDog bought a forest! Well, it bought 2,050 acres of land in Scotland that will be converted into woodlands to promote carbon sequestering and biodiversity. In addition, wind turbines generate electricity used to brew its beer and power its pubs in the UK. Cans and food waste are upcycled to make the business zero waste as well. This is what real sustainability could look like.
What BrewDog has achieved here just goes to show the positive impact that big business can have in terms of solving problems, rather than just be labeled as the root of all evil.
Carbon negative, the eco claim for the future
At a time when most companies are still struggling to be carbon neutral, very few have set themselves apart by pledging to go carbon negative. Within the food space, Smithfield Foods has become the first major protein company to commit to becoming carbon negative in all company-owned operations in the US by 2030 (the point of no return essentially if we can’t reduce environmental pollution). For others, 2040 and 2050 are deadlines.
Since 2018, interest in carbon negative claims within the food and drink space has increased by a whopping 612%.
Carbon labeling emerges for consumers
But carbon negative is more of a company-level claim. We’ve also been seeing carbon-related initiatives aimed at consumers, particularly in the form of carbon labeling on pack. That is, some companies are highlighting the carbon footprint of the product on pack for all to see. Interest in carbon labeling grew 472% between 2018 and 2019, with brands and restaurants starting to warm to the concept.
Quorn has introduced introducing carbon footprint data for some of its products.
US restaurant chain Just Salad has carbon labeled its entire menu.
Swedish supermarket, The Climate Store, launched in October by one of the country’s best-known brands, Felix, has gone one step further. It has become the first store in the world to use the carbon footprint of a food product as the basis for setting the price. So, foods with higher footprints, such as meat and dairy, are more expensive than plant-based foods that have a lower footprint. The store even goes as far as to limit the weekly shopping budget to 18.9 kilograms of CO2e.
The Climate Store uses the following symbol for its low-carbon foods.
The idea behind such a pricing system is to encourage consumers to choose foods that have a lower impact on the environment and climate – or at least be cognizant of their own carbon footprint. Carbon labeling is a great way to promote transparency and spread awareness of what is perhaps one of the biggest concerns of our time: climate change.
Showcasing this information right up front has the potential to completely change the way consumers think about and buy their food in the long run, very similar to front-of-pack nutritional labels.
Conscious purchasing on the rise
One of the drivers for the growth of carbon labeling and other related claims is going to be conscious purchasing habits by consumers. Consumers – and younger consumers in particular – are increasingly showing interest in ethical, eco-friendly, sustainable products.
Spoonshot data shows a 78% growth in interest in conscious purchasing of food since 2018; among Millennials and Gen Z, this interest grew by 136%.
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These younger consumers are willing to buy brands that support causes dear to them in part because of the convenience, a lack of knowledge of how else to contribute, and even laziness. This means that brands need to more than ever walk the talk of their sustainable credentials.
And if we’ve learned one thing from BrewDog, it’s that you don’t have to sacrifice profits along the way!