Shane Brennan | Chief Executive | Cold Chain Federation


Towards a Net Zero Cold Chain – Setting the Scene

September 2020

The cold chain makes modern life possible. It is a network of specialist facilities and vehicles that store and transport goods in a secure temperature-controlled environment which extends product life, reduces waste and ensures product quality. Everyone in the UK relies on the cold chain to deliver products like food and pharmaceuticals safely.

The UK has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Reducing emissions from industry and transportation is critical to achieving this aim. Refrigeration is an energy intensive process and therefore will face scrutiny in the years ahead. As we respond to that challenge we must never lose sight of the bigger picture, of just how important the cold chain is, and has been, to people in the UK and across the world.

Cold chain is a force for climate good. In a food system where some of the biggest climate risks come from over-production, deforestation and food waste, it is the cold chain that provides solutions. In a changing climate we are going to need more cold chain not less. That said today’s cold chain, like most other industries, is not yet ready for a net zero future.

The changes in regulation, taxation and consumer demand that we can expect in the coming years place risks on businesses in the cold chain. We are vulnerable to rises in energy prices; new carbon and fossil fuel taxes; regulations that will force the obsolescence of technologies we have relied on for decades; and restrictions on how, when and where vehicles can operate on our roads and in our cities. These changes also bring major opportunities. UK businesses are leading the world in facility, system and vehicle design.

As operators we have a track record of embracing and meeting the targets set for us. Our Climate Change Agreement, which requires us to meet stretching energy efficiency standards, has not only met, but exceeded the targets set by Government. Despite population and economic growth, our facilities are handling more product than ever but using 17% less relative energy today than we were in 2008 and we expect to go further. At the same time our vehicles are getting ever more efficient, with major improvement in miles per gallon and a precipitous drop in emissions.

Starting with this event, we will be working to bring our industry together; to define what we mean by a net zero cold chain; and to ask ourselves where the gaps are in our knowledge and where the potential is for collaboration. Our hope in the next four weeks is to set the scene and create the foundation for rich engagement within and outside our industry through 2020 and 2021.

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