Food production, both globally and in Ireland, makes up over a third of overall GHG emissions. The Climate Action Plan (CAP) has a number of agriculture specific actions and where the additional measures are taken into account (With Additional Measures scenario) the anticipated result would be emissions decreasing to approximately 19 Mt CO2 eq by 2030 which is an 11.3% reduction over the period 2020-2030. It is clear that these are very ambitious targets and significant change will be required in the sector. Keelings is a 100% Irish-owned family business dating back to 1926 when they established their farm. In the 1930s, they began growing fruits & salads and supplying them to the local Dublin markets. Now, Keelings Group employs approximately 2,000 people across 5 Divisions – Keelings Retail, Keelings Market, Keelings Farm Fresh, Keelings International and Keelings Solutions.
Keelings are clear that sustainability-based business practices are fundamentally aligned with their core value proposition and these practices applied to their operations can have a positive impact on the environment, the economy and the community. In line with this philosophy, in 2021, Keelings publicly committed to setting science-based carbon emissions reduction targets by 2024. Work was then conducted to identify the significant drivers of the emissions footprint and potential solutions to mitigate these sources. Keelings launched their SBTs internally in June 2021.
In order to bring all their staff together on the journey, they appointed business unit leaders to drive the various initiatives. Key to this was providing upskilling workshops on topics such as climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable sourcing to each business unit, with a clear focus on the linkage to enabling the company to deliver on their sustainability commitments. A process was then initiated leveraging data collection and quantification which culminated in each business unit producing a workbook with proposed initiatives and target reductions per pathway. This was used to report to the board giving them confidence to support publicly launching the SBT commitments in November 2021.
Keelings have cited the importance of seeking pathways that support business growth whilst decreasing absolute emissions (also known as decoupling) and having a clear narrative on this when engaging with the various business units and stakeholder groups. Another challenge to be overcome is ensuring a common interpretation of sustainability language and data across the organisation and when communicating externally. Key to this is common reporting frameworks and extensive engagement throughout the process bringing the business along with you on the sustainability journey, helping different stakeholders understand what these targets mean for them and providing them with the knowledge and tools to make the transformation to a low carbon business model possible.
Keelings recommends others begin their sustainability journey by looking at the actions which can have maximum impact. For example, a major decarbonisation opportunity Keelings identified was to increase the efficiency of their refrigeration systems used to keep fruit cool during distribution and storage. By conducting a review of their asset estate and accelerating equipment replacement Keelings estimates that their overall operational emissions decreased by over 24% between 2019 and 2021.
Another area Keelings are prioritising is the deployment of solar power to reduce their fossil fuel consumption. Careful focus on the payback period is critical when making this transition in order to create robust business cases that align with the overarching commercial imperative. Other considerations include glare studies due to their close proximity to Dublin Airport. Keelings are also looking at using heat recovery solutions from their industrial processes which can be used to heat water. In addition to setting Science Based Target, Keelings are also part of the Origin Green programme. Origin Green is an environmental sustainability program run by Bord Bia with specific initiatives linked to the reduction of energy consumption and carbon footprint as well as the overall lessening impact on the environment.
For companies in this sector, it is important to bring your stakeholders with you on your sustainability journey, tackle the most material issues first whilst ensuring you remain competitive. Keelings have shown that it is possible to do this and is committed to playing a leading role in reducing their carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals.