Environmental concerns of food management
Environment, production, sustainable consumption, environmental footprint, water footprint, local food, environmental impact, greenhouse gases waste
In recent decades, the food and drink industry have implemented environmental management systems to comply with legislative requirements (norms and standards), and different tools such as the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) or product eco-design.
The main reason for the sector to improve its environmental performance has been based on efficiency improvements, e.g., maximising the utilisation of materials, which subsequently leads to a minimisation of waste. However, there is still room for improvement which needs to be addressed.
The food and drink industry is the EU's biggest manufacturing sector in terms of jobs and value added. Moreover, the EU is the world's largest exporter of food and drink products and its second largest importer.
Consequently, food management and its environmental impacts cannot be forgotten in the European Commission’s strategies: the European Green Deal aims to become the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and to ensure economic growth decoupled from resource use.
In May 2020, the EU launched the “Farm to Fork Strategy”, a comprehensive approach to how Europeans value food sustainability. Within the framework of the Green Deal, it is also an opportunity to improve lifestyles, health, and the environment.
A shift to a sustainable food system can bring environmental, health and social benefits, as well as offer fairer economic gains.
Some measures applicable to all companies in the food manufacturing sector to improve their environmental performance are mentioned below:
• Performing an environmental sustainability assessment of products and/or operations through life-cycle assessment (LCA) tools.
• Shifting towards more efficient transport and logistics operations to reduce greenhouse emissions.
• Managing the supply chain by choosing ingredients or raw materials which are environmentally friendly (limiting fertilisers and pesticides, sustainable water sourcing, etc.).
• Improving or selecting packaging to minimise environmental impact (for example by using eco-design tools, light-weighting packaging, packaging that can be recycled, refills and returnable packaging, etc.).
• Reducing food waste generation at the production facility, reducing overproduction, and raising awareness among staff and customers.
As mentioned before, food companies need to adopt techniques, measures and actions to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of food management.
Since some companies and manufactures can still be reluctant to invest in environmental management systems or to incorporate environmental improvements all along the value chain of their products, new strategies and legislation need to be developed to help companies to overcome barriers.
Consumers have also a great influence on corporate environmental strategies of food companies. This raises the issue of the willingness to pay more for green products as a risk. By making green choices when grocery shopping (choosing eco-labelled food products, with less packaging or avoiding buying unnecessary foods to cut back on food waste), we as consumers, will help to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system.