Viewpoint: Can we afford not to move towards Net Zero?

14 November 2023
Viewpoint: Can we afford not to move towards Net Zero?

It's no longer acceptable to view sustainability by its bottom line. Instead look at the opportunities it brings, says Barbara Baccellieri

When I'm asked about the financial impact of transitioning towards Climate Net Zero, the question is usually framed from a position of cost.

This is understandable, but I think it's more impactful to evidence why and how climate action is also such an opportunity – and to recognise that by working in partnership with our clients and understanding our consumers' needs, we can enhance our business strategy to shape our company's long-term future.

In Compass One, we serve 16.5 million meals annually within healthcare settings and 14.2 million in defence and government. We work with 23 NHS hospital trusts and over 350 government and defence sites, touching the lives of 19,000 colleagues. There is no doubt we have a responsibility to use our size and scale to realise the many opportunities that exist to drive change.

The pandemic taught us great lessons about the importance of flexible operating models, loyal consumers and client partnerships. In the same way, sustainability can never exist in silo; it must be an integral part of our business strategy. We feel really privileged to work with clients and customers who want our support in helping them to achieve their net zero journey.

In May 2021 our parent company, Compass Group UK & Ireland, committed to Climate Net Zero by 2030 and earlier this year we released our first Climate Impact Report, sharing the progress and challenges of our journey to date. More recently, we announced we will follow the Transition Plan Taskforce (TPT) recommendations for high-quality, credible transition plans to be publicly disclosed and increasingly integrated into financial reporting and business strategies. I am very proud to be part of an organisation which has committed to these recommendations, aiming to deliver a ‘gold standard' plan to tackle climate change.

This commitment is also an indicator that our measure of success is changing.

A financial lens used in isolation is no longer sufficient and we see this as an opportunity to adapt our business model, invest in new skills and capabilities, and move towards integrated reporting to inform better quality decisions, capable of leading the industry.

We have all seen growing demand for the disclosure of environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics. This is broadening our understanding of the need to balance Compass One's financial and societal return to become a catalyst for systemic change.

In order to achieve this, we need to develop our reporting so it becomes a vehicle through which we can navigate the inevitable synergies and trade-offs that a business of our size and scale will always encounter.

We know supporting clients to decar­bonise and providing auditable evidence can be seen as a competitive advantage. We do this through various ways, such as understanding their sustainability priorities, which allows us to tailor our offers and increase like-for-like sales, using our scale to shape the supply chain and provide sustainable choices that are affordable and accessible, and uniting our culinary expertise in our climate and wider sustainability commitments to reduce food waste.

Our commitment to make the world a better place also makes our workforce proud, increasing their engagement and reducing labour turnover. Investing now has both immediate benefit and benefit for the future.

A few examples of our actions so far include: creating an organic garden at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom to grow produce for a dedicated outlet on site; partnering with Incredible Edible to cultivate land for growing food; investing in Aberdeenshire farm the Artisan Grower which grows a range of vegetables and salad items for use in our menus; and, this year, introducing over 70 new plant-for­ward dishes as part of our defence food offer.

This is just the beginning – we're on a journey with a lot more to do and we want to lead the way. This will be our legacy for our children and their children.

Barbara Baccellieri is the finance director of Compass One, which brings together the specialist expertise of Compass Group UK & Ireland's Defence, Energy, Government, Healthcare and Retail sectors

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