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Managing Your Food Company’s Environmental Impact: 4 Ideas

While everyone plays a role in sustainability, a sizable portion of the responsibility sits on the food producer and manufacturers’ shoulders. Decisions you make affect everyone further down in the supply chain, creating a ripple effect.

Fortunately, greening your practices isn’t only beneficial to the planet. It’s also crucial to ongoing business viability and can have immediate cost savings. Here are four ideas for managing your food company’s environmental impact at every game stage. 

1. Update Your Packaging 

The packaging you choose greatly impacts your operation’s overall environmental footprint. Plastics make up more than 12% of all municipal solid waste, much of which you cannot recycle in current facilities. Several types, including those labeled 3, 4, 6 and 7, gum up the gears of traditional machinery and stricter regulations by overseas facilities prohibit exportation. These materials don’t biodegrade, taking up landfill space for centuries. 

Even the heat-shrink labels used on many bottles can complicate the recycling process. However, you have other alternatives. Aluminum is nearly infinitely recyclable, and the newer compostable six-pack rings make such packaging an environmentally friendly option. You can banish the image of hapless and helpless ducks and turtles slowly strangling on the uncut bands. 

Make finding biodegradable plastic alternatives a priority in rethinking your packaging. However, be careful to avoid greenwashing. Plant-based options aren’t always superior — they can cost more energy to manufacture and still require mechanical processing to break down instead of doing so naturally. If consumers don’t have such facilities near them, these products still contribute to landfill fodder. 

Best of all, strive to reduce overall packaging. Those plastic clamshells often induce “wrap rage” among consumers and send 300,000 people to the hospital yearly. Furthermore, they don’t mitigate theft or “shrink” as much as many manufacturers hope, as the majority of loss comes from store employees, not customers with sticky fingers. Take a tip from the gurus at Amazon, who have launched a “frustration-free packaging” initiative that uses 100% recyclable cardboard. 

2. Streamline Your Manufacturing Processes

The manufacturing process contributes to global emissions, and streamlining your operations is one of the most efficient ways to decrease your overall carbon footprint while saving money. One step all food manufacturers should evaluate is where they can use premixes. 

Premixed ingredients reduce overall waste. Shipping ingredients from multiple sources to a single production facility often results in having too much of some of them. The reality of food rot means manufacturers throw otherwise usable products away — it’s like tossing cash in the trash. Blending everything in the correct proportion before sending it for bottling or canning makes the most of each purchase. 

Furthermore, look at your equipment and evaluate any unmet maintenance or replacement needs. For example, replacing high-volume hoses with high-pressure, low-volume cleaning systems can considerably reduce water use, saving your facility money while protecting this vital resource. Repairing leaks results in instant cash savings and prevents the need for extensive (and costly) mold cleanup later. 

3. Use Sustainable Ingredients 

When sourcing sustainable ingredients, you should remember that life is not a black-or-white proposition but comes in shades of gray. Very few materials are inherently sustainable or unsustainable — the matter often hinges upon producers’ practices in gathering raw goods. Ask yourself the following questions when selecting ingredients:

  • Is it produced and transported in a way that minimizes its impact on global warming? For example, sustainably sourced palm oil doesn’t use burning to clear land, evaluates plots for conservation concerns before allowing new plantations and requires free, prior and informed consent from area residents before production can occur. 
  • Does it respect biodiversity and ecosystems? For example, much concern about palm oil production hinges on the destruction of orangutan habitats, an issue that prior plot evaluation addresses. 
  • Do the laborers employed in the enterprise enjoy fair wages and decent living conditions? You can’t forget the human animal. Ensure your suppliers don’t use child labor or force workers to tolerate low pay and unsafe working conditions. 

4. Examine Your Logistics 

The methods you use to transport goods to their point of sale significantly affect your enterprise’s overall carbon footprint. Here, reducing packaging pays you back — the less your items weigh, the less you pay to ship them. 

You can reduce costs further while greening your footprint by opting for freight over parcel shipping whenever possible. Forming alliances with retailers reduces your need to ship individual items to consumers who appreciate the convenience of picking up their items in-store instead of waiting for them to arrive at their homes. Many organizations already use site-to-store processes to manage available inventory better, reducing waste. 

Another method for greening your shipping practices is to look for eco-friendly transport vehicles. Investing in an alternative-fuel fleet can be costly, but many manufacturers contract with outside vendors to transport their goods. Deep-sea zero-emission vehicles used in conjunction with electric ferries close to shore can minimize the impact on oceans. 

Finally, evaluate your routes. Are you taking the most direct and efficient way to get from point A to point B? Use technology to weigh factors such as road construction and their impact on idle time and shipping speed. 

Managing Your Food Company’s Environmental Impact 

Everyone has a role to play in minimizing environmental devastation. Food manufacturers can solve a considerable portion of the problem by initiating greener decisions higher in the supply chain. 

Consider the four ideas above for managing your food company’s environmental impact. You can play a substantial role in creating a greener tomorrow.

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