The move comes as the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference (COP26) brings together government heads and business leaders in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss the challenges of rising temperatures and carbon emissions.
Panera has curated a long-term plan in line with The Paris Agreement timeline to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits within the next 30 years.
Before then, it aims to achieve three other goals by 2025: to ensure its bakery and café menu is composed of 60% Cool Food Meals; to swap over to 100% recyclable, reusable and compostable packaging; and to transition 50% of its national operations to using renewable energy.
Panera has a successful history in its journey towards sustainability, having reached its goal of reducing its direct carbon emission footprint by 15% a year earlier than expected.
Currently, two-thirds of its packaging is circular, with solutions in the pipeline for the remaining third, like fully compostable packaging. Recently, it swapped out the box for its sandwiches-to-go to a thermal heat wrap, which uses 60% waste and is compostable.
In October 2020, the brand began adding climate friendly items called Cool Food Meals to its menu, a move that has enthusiastically been accepted by consumers looking to reduce their own carbon footprints. By providing low-carbon options, Panera is harnessing the power of the conscious consumer.
“As we started to think about what our long-term goal is for Panera and our footprint, we said, ‘neutral is not good enough’,” said Sara Burnett, VP of Sustainability at Panera.
“There’s going to have to be some organisations that step up and go beyond to climate positive.
“Expanding our Cool Food Meals is not only about reducing our carbon footprint, but also about providing more options for our consumers so that they can choose a low carbon entree and we are giving them the information they need to make that choice.”
Burnett added the company wants the public to hold it accountable.
“For us, it's not going to be about waiting till 2049, but we'll continue to annually report on our greenhouse gas emissions with a full breakdown like we do today and show our progress,” she said.
CEO Niren Chaudhary conceded, though, that Panera’s long-term 2050 goal comes with major challenges.
He told the media that while it aims towards using 50% green energy, “only 21% of the energy sources in the US are green, and so for me, this is a test of leadership.”
He is, however, hoping the commitment will inspire others in the supply chain.
“By elevating our ambition and saying that neutral is not enough, positive is what we need, we are hoping that our industry peers will join us,” said Chaudhaury.