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Climate Change Mitigation vs. Adaptation: What's Best for Your Food Business?

We explain two strategies for addressing climate change and how they might look for your food business
5th May 2022
In April 2022, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave a stark reminder that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 12% since 2010 and are now higher than at any point in human history. In an urgent call for drastic action, the UN said that the only hope of ensuring a "liveable future" is for humanity to halt the rise of planet-warming carbon emissions in under three years, slashing them almost in half within less than a decade. 

With this increased pressure, many businesses are now increasing their efforts to implement more sustainable practices and minimise their carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. If your company is taking its first steps towards net zero carbon, you may have encountered the terms ‘mitigation and adaptation’ in your research. Here, we break down the differences between these two strategies for addressing climate change, and provide examples of how they might look for your food business. 

Mitigation and adaptation are complementary approaches for reducing risks of climate change impacts over different time scales. Mitigation, in the near term and through the century, can substantially reduce climate change impacts in the latter decades of the 21st century and beyond. Benefits from adaptation can already be realised in addressing current risks, and can be realised in the future for addressing emerging risks.” (IPCC, 2014.) 

Adaptation: Addressing the effects of climate change 


Adaptation means anticipating the effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the resulting damage. Adaptation is specific to both place and context and can vary in scale from national, regional or local to the individual. There are three subcategories: 
  • Anticipatory adaptation (also known as proactive adaptation) takes place before impacts of climate change are observed.
  • Autonomous adaptation (also known as spontaneous adaptation) is not a conscious response to climate change, but is reactionary behaviour triggered by ecological changes in natural systems and/or by market or welfare changes in human systems.
  • Planned adaptation is the result of a deliberate policy decision, based on an awareness that conditions have changed (or are about to change) and that action is required. 

What does this look like for my business? 


Ways to introduce adaptation strategies into your food business include the following:
  • Plan and structure menus in a way that encourages diverse diets rich in plant-based foods. In order to adapt our local, regional and national food systems to the realities of feeding a growing population under the stresses brought by climate change, it’s crucial to incentivise diversified agriculture and reduce our reliance on meat production.
  • Focus on ingredients that are sustainable and avoid those with negative impacts on the environment, e.g. those that require enormous volumes of water.
  • Choose suppliers, producers and farmers with sustainable business and agricultural practices. Habitat protection is a key component of adaptation; for food businesses, this means supporting sustainable land use and working to build clean supply chains that don’t degrade natural environments.
  • Introduce careful management where resources are concerned. Implement measurable strategies for controlling water use and minimising food waste

Mitigation: Addressing the cause of climate change 


Mitigation means decreasing the impacts of climate change by preventing or reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. This is achieved either by reducing the sources of these gases (e.g. by using renewable energies rather than fossil fuels) or by creating additional facilities for the storage of these gases (e.g. by increasing the size of forests). There are four general mitigation strategies available:
  1. Reducing the demand for energy across all major sectors of the economy, consequently decreasing the requirement for fossil fuels.
  2. Improving the efficiency of how we utilise energy so that less fuel is required to meet current demands, resulting in lower emissions.
  3. Replacing high-carbon fossil fuels with lower- or zero-carbon alternatives, such as renewable energy sources or nuclear power.
  4. Capturing and storing the CO2 emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels, thus preventing its release into the atmosphere. 

What does this look like for my business? 


Mitigation strategies for the food industry will vary depending on the size, structure and purpose of the organisation. Some examples of mitigation strategies you can implement in your business are:
  • reducing energy use,
  • switching to clean energy sources,
  • choosing ingredients that are both seasonal and from local suppliers in order to minimise carbon emissions from transport, and
  • selecting a reliable tool for measuring, reducing and off-setting carbon emissions.

For an easy way to incorporate smart sustainability practices throughout your business, check out Foodprint, our brand new, fully automated, easy-to-use carbon footprint scoring, display and reporting system.