Shifting consumer demand, new environmental regulations and the drive to achieve net zero are factors make it necessary for manufacturers to ensure their facilities support sustainable practices. Here we take a look at the some of the most important considerations when it comes to designing sustainable dairy factories.
In the age of conscious consumers, manufacturers are continually looking for new ways to minimise their environmental footprint. One study found that 60% of shoppers say it’s important to buy sustainably-manufactured products, while separate research reveals they’re more likely to make sustainable or ethical choices when buying everyday products.
Along with shifting consumer demand, new environmental regulations and the drive to achieve net zero, means that manufacturers need to ensure their facilities support sustainable practices. So, while it makes good commercial sense to be green, it’s quickly becoming a ‘licence to operate’ too.
While many people today are opting for dairy alternatives, the UK still produced 15.3 billion litres of milk in 2020 – the highest level since 1990, and milk remains a household staple.
Since cattle naturally produce greenhouse gases, and processes such as pasteurisation, cooling and refrigeration are traditionally energy-intensive, how can manufacturers build sustainability into their dairy factory design?
Whether you’re developing a new site from scratch, or retrofitting an existing beverage factory, here are five considerations that can help to steer your planning.
Focus on renewable energy – and improve efficiency
Installing solar panels or wind turbines on the roof of a factory building are ideal ways to make use of what would otherwise be redundant space. This not only helps you to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels, it is also a cost-effective way to off-set rising energy bills.
Another option is to re-use the energy generated during production with heat pumps, or turning waste products, from your own factory or other businesses, into biogas or biomass.
You may be able to access government funding to support green initiatives – click here to find out about the latest schemes.
A mix of renewables might work best but a feasibility study will determine your energy requirements and which energy sources are the most reliable, sustainable and cost-effective.
No matter how it’s produced, energy is a valuable resource so take steps to minimise loss. A factory is like a draughty home on an industrial scale – it is highly energy-intensive to keep it at the required temperature if large warehouse doors are continually opened and closed.
While insulated shutter doors and airlocks can help, another solution is to include dock seals in the design so goods can be loaded onto vehicles without heat loss.
Location is key
The cost of land and proximity to workforces and transport links have always been a priority when choosing a site for a factory – but the right location can reduce the environmental impact too.
Compared to other grocery categories, milk in the United Kingdom is rarely exported but manufacturers can still reduce their food miles further by situating themselves close to both farms and customers.
In other countries and markets, other factors obviously apply.
As well as ensuring that factories are sustainable once operational, manufacturers should also consider the construction methods and materials used.
Designing factories that harness renewables and keep waste and food miles to a minimum is essential, but it’s also important to choose suppliers who share your values and can help you achieve your sustainability goals.
For example, building companies who’re part of the Considerate Constructors Scheme must care for the environment as part of their code of practice. This includes ‘optimising the use of resources and minimising carbon throughout the value chain.’
Like any form of manufacturing, the dairy industry has a number of by-products and waste which needs to be disposed of without damaging the environment – for example, 2.5 litres of wastewater is produced for every litre of milk in the UK.
This is more than other regions, as Danish dairies, for instance, produce 1.5 litres of wastewater for every litre of milk.
As well as recycling the usual glass, plastic and cardboard businesses produce, there are examples of manufacturers in the dairy industry turning wastewater and milk residue into fertilisers and bioplastics (plastics made from biomass).
Be clear on strategy
When designing a food and beverage factory, it’s important that every initiative is linked to your ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and wider business strategy.
It is easy to tinker around the edges or jump on the latest trends – but your factory needs to deliver both environmental and commercial value.
Get the design right early, and you’ll future-proof it for years to come as legislation and consumer habits change.