Surveying the sustainability scene: What’s next on the eco journey?

IFP Blog Image Fields Windmill

Managing Director- Commercial

What is the current state of sustainability in the food and drink sector – and what can we expect from 2022? We discuss the key considerations for ‘planet health, and we take a closer a look at the contributions of agriculture, manufacturing and logistics. Finally, we set out the next sustainability challenges for the food and beverage industry to tackle.

December 20, 2021

The impact the food industry has on our planet is far from a secret. Food currently accounts for more than a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse emissions and around one third of this food is wasted from end-to-end of the supply chain.

Although we have seen a huge rise in awareness and changing attitudes to move sustainability from a ‘box-ticking’ exercise to a central tenet of food manufacturing and supply chains, it is clear the industry still has a significant amount of work to do.

When we talk about sustainability in the food and drink supply chain, looking forward, there are four key drivers:

  • Climate change – the amount of greenhouse gases, measured in CO2e, across the whole supply chain, from agriculture to end user.
  • Water usage – the amount of water used at the growing and manufacturing stage of manufacture.
  • Protein per hectare – demonstrating the efficiency of growing food and plant products.
  • Biodiversity – the impact of agriculture on the ecosystem.

Progress on reducing the impact of climate change

We have already seen a great deal of progress on reducing the impact of climate change within logistics and the expected rise in ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) will only continue this trend.

The manufacturing stage is also seeing positive progress on climate change – our recent project to develop innocent’s new factory, ‘the blender’ in Rotterdam, is just one example of where sustainability values can be integrated within the design, construction and operation of food and beverage  factories.

Agriculture provides the biggest opportunity to move the dial on sustainability for the F&B supply chain now. Innovative solutions such as AI-powered, cloud-based electric vehicles are helping to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted, as well as enabling more precise workings within the agricultural environment.

Water usage: the next major issue

Water usage is the next major issue for the industry to tackle. Compared to the significantly higher cost of energy generation, water is perceived as a cheap commodity.

When you consider the direct impact of energy costs on profits, it is much easier to get buy-in for a company-wide reduction in energy usage, whereas because water is still a relatively cheap commodity, it is much tougher to make a business case for change.

This is an issue that we will be discussing in greater detail throughout the year, but there are big opportunities for the food and drink manufacturing industry to make positive change in its water usage, whether it’s at agricultural or manufacturing level.

Maximising protein per hectare and biodiversity

Agriculture also offers opportunities around maximising protein per hectare and biodiversity. This is particularly important in the plant-based sector, where the by-product market is still developing, certainly in comparison to the meat-based industry.

The evolution of the fragmented plant-based sector, which will include establishing a circular economy to ensure that waste products are utilised

Sustainability is clearly of huge importance for the food and drink sector; not only in its value to the planet and our natural resources, but also its ability to drive the value of genuinely sustainable brands.

You only have to look at the record-breaking IPO of plant-based protein brand Beyond Meat in 2019 to see the huge attraction that a brand with sustainability at its core can have for investors and consumers alike.

During 2022, we will be delving into the topic of sustainability in much more detail, exploring the huge opportunities for the food and drink sector to increase its sustainability credentials.

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