Interview: Emma Keller, Nestlé’s head of sustainability

For Emma Keller, Nestlé’s head of sustainability, protecting the environment is something that goes well beyond her job title.

“The food industry doesn’t exist without nature,” she tells the Grocery Gazette.

“If we threaten nature, through disruptive practices, or with the impacts of climate change, we literally face a massive risk to us as a business.”

Maybe it’s a consequence of her time with the WWF, where she worked with businesses to “transform the global food system”.

It might also be the reason that Keller seems refreshingly non-partisan, admitting that even Nestlé – the biggest food company in the world – can’t be left to grapple with the climate crisis alone.

“There’s so much out there that we can all learn from each other,” she says.

READ MORE: Nestlé boosts growth projections after raising prices

“We absolutely need more collaboration in this space so that we can work together on some exciting innovations and technologies, and actually help to really cut through with consumers.”

This mindset extends to the government as well.

“We do need governments to step in and help drive the kind of sector change that we need to see,” Keller believes.

She lists the recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy as an example: “mandatory reporting of protein sales, looking at how to drive a reduction in meat”.

According to the report, Britain needs to cut its meat consumption by 30 per cent within the decade to reach its 2050 net zero target.

Nestlé unveils plan for a regenerative growth system

Like Dimbleby, Keller stops short of calling for a meat tax.

She stresses that the government should bring in “enabling policies” – a reply to those who fear a levy would cripple poorer families – to “drive innovation” in plant-based foods.

In a similar vein, businesses need to “empower consumers” with the option of “new and exciting, delicious and healthy and affordable” vegan foods.

Keller has a specific condiment in mind when it comes to sustainable diets – “Variety is the spice of life, as they say”.

She continues: “Things to look for are a variation of different plant based options or flexitarian options within your diet. 

“It’s plant-based, that’s good for the planet and good for health.”

READ MORE: 60% of Nestlé products marked ‘unhealthy’, leak reveals

On the other hand, Keller is quick to emphasise that meat-free meals aren’t a “silver bullet” as she moves into the nitty-gritty of Nestlé’s sustainability strategy.

In fact, they’re just one of the multinational’s three environmental pillars.

The second is “seeding a shift to regenerative agriculture” – preventing deforestation, not disturbing soil and improving biodiversity. 

The third? “Making our operations as climate friendly and sustainable as possible, which means moving to renewable sources of energy,” Keller answers.

As the final preparations are made for the UN climate change conference – Cop26 – to begin on Sunday, sustainability has never been higher on the agenda.

With climate scientists recently issuing a “code red for humanity”, perhaps the stakes have never been higher, too.

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