Envisioning net zero futures for the Agri-Food sector

On Tuesday 4th February 2021, CHAP Knowledge Exchange and Innovation Associate Dr Aurélie Bovi attended Agri-TechE’s Envisioning Net Zero Futures for the Agri-Food Sector event.

The afternoon included an interactive workshop, inviting delegates to consider how  their organisation and the agrifood sector could evolve to meet the challenging Net Zero target set out by the NFU for the sector.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Agri-TechE’s director, welcomed the delegates and introduced the speakers: Dr Chris Brown, Asda’s Head of Sustainability and Ethical Sourcing and Method’s thought leaders John Oswald and Joshua Leigh.

Chris set the scene in his keynote introduction. The ambition to achieve Net Zero will impact every farm, technology business, research organisation and service provider. There has been a momentum around reducing the carbon emissions in all activity sectors to tackle climate change. We are now at a tipping point. The agrifood sector must act to put decarbonisation at the core of each business and together bring its supply chains to Net Zero by 2040. Chris said Asda, alongside 63 other UK retailers, was committed to support the British Retail Consortium Climate Action Roadmap. He warned delegates that a wider conversation was needed to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and the pitfall of being too carbon-centric, saying that products with very low carbon emissions may not necessarily be the most sustainable, ethical, or affordable. Understanding the trade-offs and how to best communicate about ‘low’ or ‘zero carbon’ products to consumers will be crucial. Labelling products with their carbon emissions did not work a decade ago. Consumers expect the sector to make those decisions and offer the least impactful products.

Next, Method’s John and Joshua introduced the audience to their work and explained how they help organisations envision the future by enabling them to think in new ways and make the necessary leap to go beyond extrapolating on today’s possibilities. They gave some examples of “creative briefs” they develop to spark participants’ thinking and give them the space to explore.

Delegates were then split into small groups to work through one of the scenarios, to think about what the future of agriculture could look like in a Net Zero 2040. Each group then reported on the challenges and opportunities identified for their imagined future. Delegates also had an opportunity for networking before the event concluded.

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