This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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The current pandemic has accelerated many changes—and especially the realisation that the health of people, businesses and the planet are fundamentally interlinked. The global business community has woken up to the magnitude of the sustainability challenge. Sustainability—previously “just” a moral imperative—is now clearly understood to be mission-critical for businesses and governments.
Sodexo works with schools, universities, governments, businesses and hospitals; over the past year, I have personally witnessed this shift in realisation for clients in every one of these sectors. Our clients are now asking us to concretely address their sustainability issues as a prerequisite for doing business with them.
They are feeling the pressure from their stakeholders—their consumer base, the employees they want to attract, the students they want to educate (and the parents of these students), the patients they want to treat—and now really understand that they are being held to account to tackle sustainability issues and to accelerate “climate-change proofing” their operations.
The Inequalities-Environment Nexus: Towards a people-centred green transition by Kumi Kitamori & Romina Boarini, Green Growth and Global Relations Division & Centre for Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunities, OECD
As Sodexo is a services provider, they are of course asking us for zero-waste, low-carbon, energy-neutral solutions. But more fundamentally, in these conversations they are asking how we can move the needle together on sustainability and accelerate change.
Bringing change is at the heart of our business model of outsourcing. From our experience, we know that setting ambitious, evidence-based goals is a catalyst for action. We know measuring progress is key to drive progress. Through our vast network—1.3 million affiliated merchants, 40,000 clients in both public and private sectors and over 150,000 suppliers in 64 countries—we also know the power of aligning all stakeholders for change.
For governments, the Paris Agreement provides a clear trajectory for climate action. Sodexo has always supported the ambition to translate it into clear country targets—in the United States, Europe and everywhere we operate.
Check the new OECD page for monitoring data on climate action
Similarly, businesses must be also held accountable for their environmental, social and corporate governance performances as much as for their financial performance. Reporting and monitoring real, tangible and verifiable progress in sustainability must be part of any credible corporate strategy. It is of course critical that the initiatives put forward are based on scientific evidence: if they are seen as greenwashing, it will erode trust in the ability of businesses to be part of the solution. Setting ambitious and certified carbon emission reduction targets, audited by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), is necessary to make sure that businesses are accountable and develop the right strategies to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
At Sodexo, we adopted our SBTi Target back in 2019, aiming for a 34% reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by 2025 compared to 2017. Working with the SBTi not only signaled that our target is credible to investors and clients, it also helped us define a clear path of action specific to our activities. To meet this target, Sodexo is reducing food waste, offering more plant-based food options, building more local and responsible supply chains and focusing on renewable energy management.
Sodexo is not alone. An internal review of our top global clients found that 100% have established targets related to their carbon footprint, energy and waste reduction. More broadly, over 650 leading global companies have already set for themselves science-based targets in line with the Paris Agreement.
And though it is great to see all these businesses taking action, we believe all these commitments could have even greater impact. First, by reviewing all these SBTi targets and supporting plans put forward by leading businesses as and consolidating them as blueprints for the green recovery for policymakers. And second, by looking beyond energy transition and green transportation to the many other actions that can contribute to achieving the Business Ambition for 1.5°C.
Take food waste. Worldwide, 30% of the food produced is not consumed and ends up as waste. The production and transport of all that food loss around the world is responsible for 8% of all human-related GHG emissions, close behind those of passenger vehicles. And yet, it is often missed in the environmental measures established by governments, as demonstrated in the last SDG Target 12.3 on Food Loss and Waste report.
Reducing food waste is Sodexo’s priority climate action, so we launched a comprehensive, data-driven programme, WasteWatch, to reduce food waste by 50% by 2025. But even with Sodexo’s scale, our action with suppliers and clients is only a fraction of the effort needed to address this global challenge at scale. Tackling food waste is clearly an opportunity for co-ordinated and common action across the world.
Food waste is only one example, and there are many other opportunities for governments, businesses and NGOs to join forces, using the blueprints that already exist to “build back better” from the pandemic and accelerate change on the most pressing sustainability issues. With innovation, investment and appropriate incentives, the recovery from this pandemic must be the turning point, and inject the much-needed “mission-critical” mindset that will prevent a worsening health, social and ecological crisis.
Read more about The distributional aspects of environmental quality and environmental policies and see the latest OECD data, recommendations and policy advice on the Green Recovery and other pressing Social Challenges
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