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Working with WWF to create a sustainable shopping basket

Dave Lewis - Tesco Group CEO
Tanya Steele - WWF UK CEO

“Climate change is no longer a long-term problem. It is in sight and hurtling towards us."

This was the stark warning from UN Secretary General António Guterres, speaking at the COP 25 Summit in Madrid last week.

Through interventions like this, it’s become increasingly clear we must take immediate action to tackle climate change and its causes in every sector of our society. 

Our food industry is a significant contributor to climate change with 20% of total direct carbon emissions globally coming from food and agriculture, 30% when you factor in land-use change.

The sector is also responsible for almost 60% of global biodiversity loss. And around 70% of all fresh water withdrawn is used for agricultural irrigation, which in many cases has a major impact on water flow.

Both globally and here in the UK, demand for food is increasing as the population grows. It’s vital the UK food and farming sector is able to meet this challenge while restoring nature in food production.

It's a delicate balance to strike, especially when it comes to delivering this at scale for millions of customers who expect healthy and sustainable food at a price they can afford. It will require transformational change, with suppliers, retailers and NGOs working together across the supply chain.

Which is why we must look at new and innovative ways to respond effectively to the challenges we’re seeing in the food sector. Retailers like Tesco, and NGOs like WWF have a leading role to play. We launched a ground-breaking new partnership last year, with the ambition of halving the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket.

Our first challenge has been to measure the environmental impact of a sample of the most regularly bought food items. We will then track the impact of these products as indicators of our overall progress. They include bread, milk, meat, fish, and fruit and vegetables. We call this measurement the Sustainable Basket Metric.

We’ve identified seven key areas to focus our efforts on: climate change, deforestation, marine sustainability, sustainable agriculture, food waste, packaging and consumption.

By looking at the greatest impacts of the shopping basket, we can understand and start to address the issues and publish consistent sustainability data needed for change.

It’s an approach that Tesco has already used to in other aspects of its business. Tesco was the first retailer to publish its food waste data, and is now 80% of the way to ensuring no food fit for human consumption goes to waste in our own operations.

Tesco has also mapped the carbon footprint of its dairy farms, with farms receiving a carbon assessment to identify and tackle emissions hotspots.

Tesco and WWF are also partnering on issues in international supply chains like the sourcing of sustainable soy, a product used in animal feed, with Tesco announcing a £10 million contribution over five years to support soy farmers in the Cerrado region of Brazil, to protect native vegetation and transition to producing soy only on existing agricultural land.

These initiatives are just the start of the work we need to do to make our food system more sustainable.

The scale of many of the issues we face is significant, and we can’t do this on our own. They will require long-term, cross-industry solutions. But by working together with government, NGOs and others in the food industry we have the opportunity to build a food system that delivers affordable, healthy, sustainable food for all.

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