A Catering Giant Aims for Net-Zero

Its plans include plant-based proteins, regenerative farms, and electric cars.

Catering company staff prepping food


Whenever Treehugger publishes stories about corporate meat reduction strategies, questions arise in the comments about whether it really needs to be "all or nothing." After all, while Epicurious might be ready to drop beef from its recipes, plenty of other folks will argue that supporting more sustainable production methods would be a more effective way to go. 

UK- and Ireland-based catering giant Compass Group may have just been listening because it published a new 2030 Net-Zero strategy that offers something for everyone in terms of both meat reduction and sourcing from regenerative agriculture.

The company states: “Local and seasonal ingredients will be key. By 2030 there will be a 40% switch towards plant-based proteins, with an interim target of at least 25% by 2025. Moreover, 70% of the top 5 food categories (dairy and cheese, fruit and vegetables, pork, beef and chicken) is to be sourced from regenerative agriculture by 2030.”

Exactly how the company defines “regenerative agriculture” is not entirely clear, but it is promising to work with suppliers to promote local sourcing and more sustainable farming methods, as well as rework its supplier auditing process to include key environmental performance criteria, including energy and resources efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, and green logistics.

While it is true that we are talking here about one business—not entire countries—but Compass Group’s plan does appear to be the type of robust, comprehensive, and relatively transparent approach that serves as a reasonable counterpoint to some scientists' concerns about net-zero being a counterproductive fantasy.

Here’s how Robin Mills, managing director of Compass Group UK & Ireland, heralded the initiative: 

“At Compass we are passionate about food and great services. We believe it is our responsibility to contribute towards a future of sustainable food production and regenerative agricultural principles and practices, and a commitment to climate Net Zero is an important milestone. Critical to the delivery of our targets will be the partnerships with our clients, suppliers, employees, civil society partners and government. I couldn’t be more excited for the future of foodservice.”

Among the specific promises that are worth flagging up: 

  • 100% renewable energy by 2022
  • 100% plug-in electric car fleet by 2024
  • A $1.4 million seed investment fund to support carbon reduction and sustainable food production innovation.
  • 55% reduction in emissions by 2025
  • 65% reduction in emissions by 2030 

And because no "green" food plan is complete without it, Compass should probably get extra credit for its plan to eliminate single-use plastic cutlery by 2021 too. 

Of course, a stated goal of reducing emissions “at least” 65% by 2030—across both the company’s operations and value chain—still leaves as much as 35% of emissions untouched. And this is where critics of Net-Zero may argue that it’s potentially dangerous.

Yet, as someone who is trying to formulate a decent emissions reduction strategy for my own employer, I have to say that at least a 65% reduction in less than nine years—if combined with a robust commitment to mitigate any remaining emissions—feels like the kind of plan we should be pushing for. 

As always, offsets are going to be the controversial sticking point when it comes to net-zero. And while Compass’s promised investments in UK-based afforestation and peat bog restoration projects will likely be a welcome boost to nature, it’s hard to see how there will be enough such projects to go around as other companies and sectors also seek to "neutralize" their emissions.

Still, it’s worth noting that, in line with the Science Based Targets initiative’s recommendations around net-zero targets, the company is being transparent about how much it will be relying on offsets—and what types of offsets it will be using. This is likely to be an increasingly important part of parsing the substantive from the problematic when it comes to net-zero plans at the non-governmental level.