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Yum! In The News

KFC extends a wing at the COP26 summit

The brand’s United Kingdom & Ireland market hosts a climate action roundtable at the conference, building partnerships to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.


Image provided by KFC UKI.

Published on November 09, 2021

The world’s heads of state have gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th Conference of the Parties (aka COP26) alongside some unlikely leaders, like Colonel Harland Sanders, to discuss climate change. Well, not the actual Colonel, but representatives of his beloved brand met with environmentalists to strategize how to reduce energy usage and reach net-zero carbon emissions.

If chicken executives and science-based targets seem like odd bedfellows, consider this: One in five of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly listed companies now have committed to a “net-zero” emissions target to help tackle climate change. For its part, KFC’s parent company, Yum! Brands, has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, with markets like KFC United Kingdom & Ireland (KFC UKI) aiming to get there by 2040 or sooner.

“To be honest, if you’re a human on planet Earth, you need to be concerned about the climate emergency, and at KFC, we’re no different,” said KFC UKI Director of Responsibility & Reputation Jenny Packwood.

At COP26, KFC UKI held a roundtable to share updates and actions on its approach to achieving a zero-carbon future, inviting its suppliers, partners and non-governmental organizations. Dr. Stephen Finnegan, director and founder of the University of Liverpool’s Zero Carbon Research Institute, hosted the session alongside Packwood and discussed his organization’s two-year partnership with KFC, in which its researchers will examine KFC’s entire estate of nearly 1,000 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland to identify ways to decrease its emissions, like using different construction materials and identifying renewable power sources like solar and wind. In addition to becoming a net-zero business by 2040, the institute will help KFC become a circular zero waste business in food, packaging and materials by 2035.

“So what's involved is an entire review of the supply chain and the restaurants themselves. How are they run? How are they operated? How are they built?” said Finnegan.

And it’s not just the Colonel’s flock that the institute will be helping. Once the research is complete, learnings may be shared with Yum!’s other brands, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill. The combined efforts speak to Yum!’s overarching climate action strategy, including approved science-based targets to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions in its more than 52,000 corporate and franchise restaurants and throughout its supply chain approximately 50% by 2030, as well as the aforementioned net-zero pledge by 2050.

“As the world’s largest restaurant company, carbon consciousness is a must,” said Jon Hixson, Yum! global chief sustainability officer and vice president of Government Affairs.

What does “net-zero carbon emissions” mean?

Net-zero doesn’t mean greenhouse gas emissions stop. Instead, think of it like a scale. Producing greenhouse gas emissions tips the scale to one side, and if we want balance, we’re going to have to offset what we’re currently emitting by doing things like planting new forests. The more emissions that are produced, the more carbon dioxide we need to remove from the atmosphere to reach net-zero.

The executive points to a long journey of energy reduction efforts, going back to 2006 when Yum! set its first energy conservation goal. Three years later, the company built its first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified green restaurant, with 44 LEED-certified restaurants globally to date.

For its part, KFC UKI is piloting restaurant building management systems that automatically shut off equipment that is not needed, reducing energy consumption by 30% and having the potential to save approximately $26,000 per restaurant annually. But, Hixson points out, Yum! and its brands, can’t do it alone.

“We can’t underestimate the importance of collaboration,” he said, adding that KFC UKI will continue to find ways to share its learnings, so that the entire QSR industry benefits. “It’s not a competition; net-zero carbon emissions is a global goal for everyone.”

That’s the main takeaway from COP26, he says. No one brand, business or government can tackle climate change alone, and KFC UKI, as well as its supply chain partners, are leaving the talks with shared learnings to integrate into their plans and operationalize steps toward their desired net-zero status.

“It's going to take a huge amount of collective effort and energy to tackle it, but our goal is to be a net-zero carbon business,” Packwood said. “We have a solid plan in place and are fully committed, alongside Yum!. These are the key ingredients we need for success.”

To learn more about Yum!’s Global Citizenship and Sustainability strategy, click here.

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