The decision to improve sustainability, we can all agree, is an important one.
In practice, however, this simple decision has different meanings for different people, and can become as complex as you want to make it.
For food and beverage companies, sustainability plays a role in every step of the product planning, manufacturing and delivery process. Look closely and you will find opportunities to improve sustainability in every single aspect of your company’s operations.
It can be overwhelming.
You can look in the fields where your raw products are grown and require farmers to adopt sustainable farm management practices, such as tillage programs, nutrient or spray irrigation system management plans, or crop rotation plans. You can look at how your products move from place to place and seek low-impact transportation options or consider alternative fuels. You can also look at what happens to your waste byproducts and take advantage of waste stream management.
The point is, we can easily talk about all the options available to improve sustainability, but sensibly applying its principles across every practice and process in your operations is a monumental task. In addition to running an efficient and successful business, you would have to become a sustainability expert.
In light of this, here are four tips for maximizing your sustainability efforts.
Network with peers and others outside your industry to learn about programs, organizations and resources that match your needs. Most industry food and beverage focused trade groups provide resources to help plan or implement sustainable practices. But for food and beverage companies, sustainability improvements can be achieved at many points in your supply chain. Consider cross-industry organizations, such as the Sustainability Consortium, that bring together representatives from a wide variety of functional areas in different industries. You might find a sustainability initiative that's delivering results for a personal care company can be directly applicable to your organization.
Identify and prioritize your sustainability goals so you can align with partners who are best suited for your company. Zero landfill? Process wastewater reuse? Reductions in air emissions? There are experts in every category. Having specific goals and objectives for your sustainability program will help you select the right ones. And, as you know, with goals, you can measure. With measurements, you will be able to prove the value of your decisions to the public and stakeholders.
Engage your employees in developing and implementing sustainability initiatives. Employees who are on the production floor every day are in the best position to see opportunities for reducing waste. Ask them. You may be surprised by the wealth of great ideas you receive.
Be flexible. Not all sustainability efforts follow the same recipe. Sometimes the best ideas and resources come from outside your industry segment. Your products, your processes, your plants have unique characteristics that usually aren't well-suited for a one-size-fits-all solution. Replicate what works best and modify the rest to meet your specific needs.
Sustainability-focused organizations provide excellent venues for learning best practices. Each of these organizations have specific areas of expertise, as do consultants with employees who are experts in specialty fields. The key is to match the experts with your identified sustainability efforts to maximize impact and effect change.
At SEH, we’ve partnered with clients from virtually every link in the food and beverage supply chain, from farmers to transportation providers to deliver customized sustainability solutions. If you are interested in learning more about sustainability, or concerned that your current efforts are not aimed in the right direction, please contact SEH for more information.
Rick Viviani is a food and beverage industry specialist who knows sustainability benefits not only industry, but society as well. Contact Rick