Our Director of Corporate Responsibility was in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference. Across a whirlwind two weeks of events, speeches and meetings, she explained how cutting food waste by 50% by 2025 will help Sodexo get to Net Zero. Claire Atkins-Morris talks about her time at COP26 and explains the importance of a fair transition through the challenges ahead

A mind-blowing first impression

COP26 has been big news for weeks, but the TV screens didn’t do it justice. It was vast. Both in terms of physical size (so pleased I wore trainers) and the enormity of the challenge. I’m a chartered environmentalist, and even I felt overwhelmed. But once the shock subsided you couldn’t help but feel the energy: everyone is working hard to make a positive impact.

I came to Glasgow to talk about food waste. As issues go, it’s by no means the headline act (the Prime Minister described the second week as ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’). Yet it bubbled up continually in meetings, despite not being officially on the agenda. That’s because cutting food waste will have an enormous impact on emission reductions. And it’s our responsibility to help, because Sodexo serves one million meals a day.


Claire Atkins Miorris at COP26


Forging a path to Net Zero

Last month, we announced our comprehensive roadmap to Net Zero by 2045. It’s ambitious, yet achievable. Since 2017, our commitments on climate change have been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and this roadmap is on the same journey. Their rigorous approach has already helped us exceed the emissions targets we set after the Paris Agreement, giving me every confidence that we’re on the right track.

So what lies ahead? First up, we’ve got the usual suspects: 

Then, there’s the less obvious changes: 

Take a look in your fridge…

Last week, I spoke at Nourish Scotland’s COP26 panel debate. I also visited food waste charity FareShare’s Glasgow depot, as they’re one of our Stop Hunger strategic charity partners. So what’s the link between food waste and emissions?

Dig out that bag of apples you bought recently. Were they driven from Kent or flown from New Zealand? The carbon impact is poles apart. But then imagine no one ate them in time or (worse) didn’t like what you cooked with them, so it all goes in the food caddy and you drive out for more.

Scale that up to Sodexo – we spend nearly £230m on food and beverages in the UK & Ireland alone – and you can see why it matters. We’re introducing WasteWatch, powered by Leanpath technology, so we can understand the issue and take the right action. Already, teams at more than 200 locations are getting real-time data on what’s being thrown away – and why – so they can take meaningful steps to reduce it. 

Let’s combine big programmes and baby steps

Net Zero is easy to say but really complex to deliver. So while we’re doing something big, people can help us by starting small. I’m forever reminding colleagues that tiny changes - in any area - add up. If only half of us tried a shampoo bar, that’s 15,000 fewer plastic bottles.

It’s part of what’s called a fair transition. Big companies have a responsibility to do more because we can access expert advice. That’s why when one of our suppliers didn’t know how to calculate their carbon footprint, we didn’t look elsewhere; we set up a working group to help them figure it out.

The same is true of transparency. When the Science Based Targets initiative completes their review of our roadmap next year, we’ll carry on sharing our progress openly. I’m proud that we lead in this area (only a fraction of targets get validated like this) but it might not work for smaller organisations. Let’s work together and find what does.

Collaboration isn’t always official

At GSK’s panel event we spoke about the role of cross-industry collaboration. It’s equally vital that the private sector works collectively with governments, but working together can also start closer to home.

One of the biggest barriers to action is knowing what to do, so let’s focus on a warm welcome for those new to the journey and save the circular economy quiz for another time.

COP26 has really embodied this ‘do your bit’ approach. It’s not every day that I speak to senior government officials, corporate CEOs and activists and find them broadly on the same page…

My advice on picking your priorities 

COP26 covered a bewildering range of topics: deforestation, transport, gender, equality, finance and youth empowerment to name but a few. We’re already working on many, like the ‘forest positive’ programme run by the Consumer Goods Forum.

But knowing where to start can be hard, so here’s my top tips from my time in Glasgow:

  • Start from what you do - as individuals or companies, we can always look at how we travel, what we buy and how we work.
  • It’s not ‘all or nothing’ - small changes add up to big improvements, so why not check out Love Food Hate Waste for some inspiration?
  • Help is out there - it needn’t cost anything either, as organisations like Sodexo patner WRAP are sharing great guides and toolkits online.


So much more to do

There’s no getting away from it, there are big challenges ahead, but I saw some trail-blazing work and met some inspirational young people. Woe betide any CEO that underestimates these future colleagues; they expect leadership and action.

I came away from COP26 inspired, a little bit terrified and a huge fan of Glasgow. The atmosphere was electric and you couldn’t ask for friendlier faces when you inevitably got lost.

I’ll end with an incredible stat used by our friends at FareShare: if global food waste was a country, it would be the third largest carbon emitter in the world. We’re doing what we can to reduce it. We also hope that others will join us by considering food waste and sustainable food systems in their Net Zero commitments. And if only one person reads this article and looks at their fridge contents differently, well that’s a start.

You can find out more about how we’re tackling food waste here as part of our Social Impact Pledge.


For information on our plan to Net Zero, click here

November 15, 2021