VIDEO | The Future of Food: Race to net zero


Welcome to the final episode of The Future of Food, a three-part video series which explores how the grocery sector is likely to change in the next few years.  If you missed the first or second episodes, click here to check them out.  For this episode, we spoke to Woolworths’ general manager of climate and environment Fiona Walmsley about how climate change has impacted the sector, and what supermarkets are doing to avoid further damage moving forward.  Check out the full video below. A


A climate of opportunity

Over the last several years, Australia’s grocery sector has seen numerous setbacks caused directly by our changing climate. 

From frequent flooding cutting off access to food supply, to bushfires incinerating arable farmland, the damage has been extensive and expensive – with a 2021 report released by WWF Australia estimating that the 2019-2020 summer bushfires caused $5 billion worth of damages to Australia’s food system.

And while these events have been rapid, and devastating, they have also been a learnable moment for Australia’s grocery industry. 

“[Woolworths are] thinking about [solutions] on lots of different levels,” Walmsley told Inside Retail. 

“In terms of the supply chain challenges… from a geographic point of view, we’ve got a number of distribution centres in decentralised regional areas [which will] become a key part of our supply chain resilience.

“For example, in 2020 we did a significant upgrade to our Townsville DC to equip it with additional product lines that are essential in times of natural disaster: things like tinned vegetables, toilet paper, baby formula, those types of things.”

This ‘prepper’ mentality may seem old-fashioned in a world infatuated with just-in-time supply chain management, but given the frequency with which Australia has faced climate disasters in the last few years, it has already justified its existence. 

During the extensive flooding in parts of Queensland earlier this year, Woolworths was able to keep its local supermarkets stocked with essentials despite the fact its supply chain link was cut off because its DC was prepared.

And, beyond pragmatic changes to its supply chain, Woolworths is also working to decarbonise its business for the future. By 2025 the chain expects to be run entirely on renewable energy, something Coles expects to achieve by 2030, and which Aldi and Harris Farm Markets have already completed. 

What can we expect to change?

Beyond the work the sector has already done to decarbonise its own operations, the more difficult work of addressing Scope 3 emissions – those produced not by the company itself, but suppliers and manufacturers – looms large in the future. 

In order to begin the process of tackling this issue Woolworths this year started a trial to understand the Scope 3 impact of its six highest-emitting categories, and provided insights to help over 50 of its suppliers to start cutting their own emissions. 

“It’s really important to share the lessons that are coming out of that trial, and that’s a program that we are intending to continue working on,” Walmsley said. 

“Similarly, we understand there is a real need for collective action and collaboration across other areas, such as decarbonising our big vehicle fleet.

“[Woolworths thinks a lot] about how we’re able to [foster] that type of thinking and innovation in all of these different challenging areas, and it’s something that we won’t be able to do alone – no business can.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt of our final episode, feel free to check out the entire series here. 


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