Importance of Sustainability Growing for Food Industry

ANALYSIS - Sustainability is becoming a major item for the food industry around the world, as resources become more restricted and demand grows.
calendar icon 21 March 2013
clock icon 5 minute read

However, many companies are not actively monitoring or measuring the sustainability of the ingredients and products they source.

A new report, Driving Sustainability, from LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), which was launched at the International Food Event in London showed that while a vast majority of companies believe sustainability to be increasingly important - 82 per cent of companies surveyed - only 19 per cent monitored the sustainability of the products they sourced.

The report, surveyed nearly 1,000 representatives from across the food industry.

Nearly half, 47 per cent, agreed or strongly agreed that their company should take sustainability more seriously, with a further 66 per cent looking to improve the integrity of their supply chains through better traceability and provenance.

Key drivers for addressing sustainability are meeting customer demand - 48 per cent - and saving the company money - 40 per cent.

While cost effectiveness is important, 67 per cent of respondents agreed that if they were in charge of procurement for their company, they would pay a premium for sustainably produced food or ingredients.

Chief executive of LEAF, Caroline Drummond

Caroline Drummond, MBE and chief executive of LEAF said: "In order to continue to feed the growing population, it is vital that the food industry ensures it is sustainable. The findings in this report demonstrate that while companies understand they need to improve their environmental impact and source sustainably, many do not have the tools in which to implement and measure this.

"This report establishes a base point from which the food and farming industry can measure progress in the development of sustainable farming.”

To address the need for clear and practical ways of measuring sustainability, LEAF has developed a framework, which starts right at the beginning of the supply chain.

The framework is based on the LEAF Audit, a self-assessment management tool to help farmers to farm more sustainably.

They can then take this to the next level which is the independently assessed LEAF Marque certification.

The framework looks at 24 key objectives under the three pillars of sustainability – economic performance, environmental quality and social health. These cover a variety of factors including crop health and protection, water management, pollution control and by-product management and landscape and nature conservation. LEAF can use the framework to assess and encourage continuous improvement of its farmers, which in turn can provide the food industry with a more sustainable supply chain.

In the US, organic food companies are also increasingly adopting a wide range of sustainability initiatives, according to the first Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA) Annual Member Sustainability Report.

Report Shows Organic is Sustainable
SFTA Executive Director Nate Schlachter

The report shows that companies used less energy, created less waste, reduced their carbon footprints and donated to the community considerably more in 2011 (the reporting year) than the previous year.

The data taken from SFTA members’ annual sustainability reports that show audits of tghe companies' organic, distribution, energy, climate change, water, waste, packaging, labour, animal care, education, and governance.

“The 2012 member reports we received this year are full of inspirational achievements and marked improvements over the previous reporting year,” said SFTA Executive Director Nate Schlachter.

The association said that the report shows that organic is a trend worth investing in. All of the reports included a dedication to organic agriculture, by either only selling/producing organic products or stating a goal to increase organic purchases or sales in the coming year.

Efficiency is driving reduced energy use. All the companies reported a formal commitment to energy efficiency through policies and practices and 37 per cent of the companies had invested in onsite renewable energy generation.

Waste being taken away from landfill to rfecycling had also increased. The average amount of waste diversion from landfills was 76 per cent - an increase of 18 per cent over the previous year, when 58 per cent of waste went for recycling.

There was also a 34 per cent increase in companies saying that they were taking action such as auditing and managing their waste streams.

Climate change abatement initiatives were at the forefront of the action being taken by companies with 85 per cent of the members investing in tracking and integrating carbon management into their business operations. This is a 25 per cent increase on the action taken in 2011.

Water use reduction is a priority for organic food companies, with 80 per cent tracking and focusing ways to reduce water use in their operations - a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

The SFTA companies are also investing heavily in the local communities, donating approximately $4.4 million in cash and in-kind donations.

“This is a telling sign that more organic food companies see the importance of formalizing their sustainability programs and pursuing sustainability collaboratively with their peers,” said Mr Schlachter.

The Sustainable Food Trade Association, a trade association for the organic food industry, represents more than 60 North American companies.

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