For planet and profit 07/11/2022 by Sarah Pursey
AS the COP27 climate summit kicked off in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, UN Secretary General António Guterres issued a stark declaration of where he saw us heading – in short, on the “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. While the UN chief could rarely be accused of mincing his words, with ample evidence to suggest we are indeed fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible, his remarks should be viewed as timely as opposed to hyperbolic.
All industries have a role to play in decarbonisation, of course –
and the F&B sector is no exception. Certainly, the connections are becoming ever more clear between the food that we eat and what impacts those systems that produce our food are having on the planet.
Encouragingly, there are practical steps that F&B industry players can take today towards being part of the solution – not least when it comes to energy consumption. At present, the way in which we cultivate, transport, prepare, process and package food consumes around 30 per cent of the world’s available energy, with around 70 per cent of that energy use occurring post-farm – in power-hungry processes such as drying, evaporation, baking, pasteurisation, kilning and steam production, alongside throughout the cold chain. Meat and poultry, and baking and biscuits are the biggest energy users, although inefficiencies invariably run throughout the sector, not least in terms of the utilisation of outmoded, power-draining electrical infrastructure.
Energy inefficiency translates directly into needlessly high overheads for F&B players, with a Pan European Power Quality Survey recently concluding that annual losses attributed to power quality issues (chiefly recoverable heat losses) could amount to a far-from-insubstantial four per cent of business turnover. Two of the biggest ways a company can waste energy (and money) are by using ageing and inefficient equipment, and by leaving machines and equipment running needlessly. It follows that investment focused on negating such wastage is an obvious win-win. Advancements in the field of Industry 4.0 have a major role to play in this regard, with sensors collating measurements of energy usage across all areas of food production and distribution, and cloud-hosted platforms allowing for the remote monitoring and managing of assets, alongside trend analysis – all insights that can help shape sustainability strategy and ultimately make cost savings.
Beyond digitalisation – as well as electrification and the much-needed switch to renewables as a means of powering future manufacturing processes – a more fundamental rethink of the value chain at the front end will undoubtedly be required, given the inevitable food security challenges presented by a world population set to far exceed 10 billion by the century’s mid-point.
The indefatigable rise in plant-based foods, driven by consumer demand for products that promote health and reduce environmental impact, is one fast-emerging solution, with ingredient innovators like IFF leading the way in advancing formulations to drive this dietary evolution (p54). Elsewhere, advancements in cellular agriculture (a.k.a. lab-grown meat) are coming on in leaps and bounds, with significant breakthroughs in this nascent but highly prospective field boding well for the commercial scale-up of the tech upon which it can flourish (p23).
Tightening regulations on the energy efficiency of equipment, and greater transparency on the energy emissions generated in the manufacture of products are both likely to be new areas for legislation in the years to come. Yet greater scrutiny around corporate sustainability performance is already moving up the agenda for consumers, who increasingly want to see meaningful metrics from F&B brands.
That the world’s most progressive F&B manufacturers now clearly equate improved sustainability performance with improved financial performance is encouraging. However, an industry-wide recognition of – and proactive response to – this win-win scenario will be crucial both to see a meaningful reductions in the sector’s emissions, and to ensure that the UN Secretary-General’s alarming vision of our planet’s future prospects do not become our reality.
The Hotel & Hospitality Show 2023
Sandton Convention Centre, South Africa