Tackling Scopes 1, 2, and 3 in Food Service

What are the different ways Food Service players can address their Scope 3 emissions?
Scope 3
Mar 27, 2024

It’s been preached repeatedly: the crux for the food industry’s net-zero ambitions lies in the very wide and complex subject of Scope 3.

This is no truer than with the food service sector. When it comes to the environmental impact of restaurants, commercial and collective catering services, and hotels, a distinct understanding of their unique emissions profiles is required. While they belong to the greater food industry category, their operations are different from those of their industrial and upstream counterparts.

In this brief guide, we’ll illustrate the emissions of food service players by defining what Scopes 1, 2, and 3 include. We will also discuss in depth the dominance of Scope 3 and suggest concrete ways of pushing back against it.

A look at Scopes 1, 2, and 3 in Food Service

Scope 1: Direct Emissions

For food service players like restaurants, catering services, and hotels, Scope 1 emissions encompass greenhouse gas emissions directly produced by their operations. This includes emissions from:

  • Onsite kitchen operations, stemming from the combustion of natural gas or fuels for cooking and heating.
  • The company's fleet of vehicles used for food delivery or transportation of goods.
  • Onsite equipment reliant on fossil fuels during food preparation and service.

💡To address these emissions, food service players could explore strategies such as optimizing kitchen operations, using energy-efficient appliances, or transitioning to alternative fuels such as biofuels, hydrogen, or electricity for transportation.

Scope 2: Indirect emissions from purchased electricity

Scope 2 emissions involve indirect greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the generation of purchased electricity, heat, or steam consumed by food service players. These emissions occur outside the organization but are associated with its energy consumption. This could include:

  • Emissions from the generation of electricity purchased and used in establishments.
  • Energy consumption for heating, cooling, and lighting in establishments.

Investing in renewable energy sources, implementing energy-saving technologies, or improving energy management practices when it comes to your industrial appliances and refrigeration are popular initiatives for reducing Scope 2 emissions.

Scope 3: Supply chain emissions

Like most companies, regardless of the industry, the greatest challenge is really in measuring Scope 3 emissions as this often relies on information from your suppliers, carriers, and contract manufacturing partners. As per definition, Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions that result from your activities but occur from sources not owned or controlled by you. In food service, most of these emissions are from your purchased products and services:

  • The production of ingredients and raw materials used in food preparation.
  • Transporting ingredients and supplies from farms, manufacturers, and distributors to your restaurants, hotels and catering facilities.
  • Waste generation and disposal, including food waste and packaging materials.

💡Click here for GHG Protocol’s FAQ sheet that defines every scope and their differences.

The dominance of Scope 3 emissions in Food Service

a donut chart that illustrates what contributes to the GHG emissions of a typical food service company. It shows how Inputs (purchased products and services) account for more than 70% of the emissions.
Energy - direct emissions from combustion sources and indirect emissions from purchased electricity; Inputs - purchased products and services; Freight - transport of goods and services; Transport - commute of employees, clients, and business travel; Direct waste - waste generated by operations

In the food industry, the bulk of emissions—more than 90% in some cases—comes from the extensive network of supply chains, which can be attributed to agricultural practices and production methods. The chart above provides a representation of the average distribution of GHG emissions of a typical mid-size player in food service. The large majority of emissions come from purchased goods and services, which fall under Scope 3.

So, what are concrete ways food service players can support reductions in Scope 3 emissions?

Source sustainably

Sustainable sourcing is now a ubiquitous term across the food industry, so much so that 77% of respondents in the first edition of the Annual Barometer on Climate Strategies in the Food Industry consider it a high priority. However, it is something that requires a lot of nuance where you won’t find a one-size-fits-all approach. Being able to source sustainably means integrating social, ethical, and environmental factors in your process of selecting your suppliers. When we zoom in on the environmental aspect, this entails building strong, long-term relationships with suppliers and encouraging them to develop eco-responsible practices on their own.

So, how can you go about selecting suppliers that are equally dedicated to environmental sustainability as you? A good starting point would be to request your suppliers to respond to a questionnaire about their GHG emissions and their agricultural practices. This will allow you to better understand their level of engagement as well as have the ability to compare or rank your suppliers based on their sustainability practices.

Identify high-impact ingredients and recipes

This is an infographic that shows two identical croissants. It illustrates how one croissant made with butter has 2.45 kgCO2e/kg in GHG emissions compared to the other croissant made with margarine with 1.42 kgCO2e/kg in GHG emissions.

To determine which of your products and ingredients have the greatest environmental impact, there’s no better transparency offered than by a Life Cycle Assessment at the recipe or ingredient level. For instance, one of the main ingredients of a traditional croissant is butter. After conducting LCA on this product, we found that almost 70% of the carbon footprint of the recipe is attributed to the use of butter. Now, after conducting LCA using the same product composition but switching the butter ingredient for margarine, a vegan alternative to butter, we were able to effectively see the croissant’s emissions decrease by ~42%.

You can leverage the visibility offered by LCA to create diverse scenarios by adjusting ingredient quantities or substituting them with more sustainable alternatives. This eco-design feature offers a practical approach to exploring ways to minimize your overall environmental impact. Eco-designing your recipes and menus provides a tangible method for prioritizing ingredients and cooking techniques with a lower environmental footprint, while also aiming to reduce food waste.

Educate your stakeholders

Training staff on the importance of sustainable sourcing practices and how to communicate these values to customers also plays an important role in implementing your climate strategy. Provide information such as eco-labels on menu items that reflect your sustainable sourcing practices to raise awareness among customers and encourage support for environmentally responsible choices. The impact this has on consumer behavior also cannot be understated as their choices regarding the type of cuisine, portion sizes, and frequency of dining out directly influence the demand for certain food products, ultimately impacting the volume your emissions in tons of CO₂ equivalent.

Players in the food service industry may take steps to reduce their Scope 1 and 2 emissions, but finding effective ways to address the larger impact of Scope 3 emissions remains a challenge. In a recent update by SBTi, 239 companies had their targets removed with about half of these companies citing getting a handle on Scope 3 emissions to be the main pain point.

While there are still unknowns in terms of upcoming regulations, policy frameworks and technological developments, there already are concrete actions that can be taken now to advance your sustainability efforts. Already a trusted partner by players in Food Service, Carbon Maps’ platform offers:

  • automatic and rapid recipe- and ingredient-level LCA across menus and ingredient portfolios
  • a robust supplier engagement module that facilitates data collection and normalization so that you can integrate environmental criteria in your purchasing strategy & operations
  • an eco-design module that allows you to create scenarios for new and existing recipes
  • a carbon quote module that you can use to communicate the impact of your menus and services with clients as well as potential clients to win tenders

Where you are right now is the best place to start calculating and measuring the impact of your menus. To understand how our platform tailored for the food industry can help you address your Scope 3 emissions, we invite you to book a demo with Carbon Maps.

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