Sodexo's corporate responsibility director cuts through the greenwashing to apply a scientific mindset to sustainability with Caroline Baldwin
Tells us a bit about your role and how Sodexo approaches sustainability?
I've been at Sodexo for 11 years. Until I took up this corporate responsibility role last year, I was mostly in service design, supporting sales. But I'm trained in sustainability – I have a masters in environment for business and I'm a chartered environmentalist.
Sodexo is such a large corporation and sustainability can be really complicated, so the roles I've done put me in a better position to navigate the business. We now have a net-zero commitment by 2045, if not sooner. Our focus is on fully decarbonising the business and on relying less on carbon offsetting. We are proud to have our near- and long-term net-zero commitment validated by the Science Based Targets initiative [SBTi], and we are the only foodservice company to have achieved this – this framework ensures we focus on our carbon impact.
What are your thoughts on carbon offsetting?
There's a lot of naivety around carbon offsetting. People think it's just planting a tree, but you need to consider the correct species and where it is planted, or if it will be cut down at some point. There's a lot of challenges around it and if you simply provide money to an external company to offset your carbon emissions, it might go to a project that you don't have full awareness of.
It sounds complicated.
It is. We need to have a jargon buster to really understand the terms offsetting and how carbon-neutral and net-zero are two different terms. All the phrases being thrown around lead to a lot of confusion and greenwashing. I was coming out of Farringdon station in London the other day and was offered a free sample of something that was ‘carbon neutral'. I asked the person offering it how it was carbon neutral and they didn't know – companies need data to substantiate these claims.
How integral is data to fighting climate change?
It's time for action and everyone knows one of the main challenges is around data. At Sodexo we're reliant on data within our supply chain. We're a service organisation and if 75% of our supply chain is made up of small and medium-sized companies that don't have the expertise to calculate their carbon footprint, it slows things down because our clients are expecting specific carbon footprinting.
The market is moving in the right direction, but you need a lot of data and frameworks and people to calculate this and then you need great comms people to not lose that audience, while educating them at the same time.
How are you helping with this education?
Our Appetite for Action food waste campaign speaks to heads of procurement in large organisations to get their view on food waste. This year's research has found that, with the macro challenges around the supply chain and cost of living, 60% of companies said their food waste had become a lot worse in the past six months and 35% had deprioritised food waste because of the pressures on the supply chain.
The good news is that 80% still felt focusing on net-zero emissions is a priority, but in the short-term companies need to get through supply chain pressures.
We can't lose sight of net zero – we need a holistic view because if we are in a climate crisis it will be the poorer communities that will be affected. We need to stop thinking in silos and stop thinking of sustainability as an extra cost. We should continue to work together as a community to take ownership and make changes.
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