Sustainable Change: A giant leap into the unknown
By Food in Canada StaffSustainability Anthesis Provision circular economy Editor pick
It increasingly feels like we have taken a giant leap into the unknown. Energy costs are rising so steeply that provincial governments are taking the unprecedented step of reducing fuel taxes to preserve buying power at the pump.
Russia and Ukraine together produce nearly 30 per cent of global wheat and 12 per cent of global calories. With all sea routes out of Ukraine blocked and trains only able to transport a small percentage of the harvest, Ukrainian farmers are only half-joking when they say the West needs to send them armoured tractors. Plus, there simply isn’t enough space in this column to address the spiking fertilizer prices, the highest inflation rates in a generation or even the messy global supply chains.
Everything has changed. The question is, what are we going to do about it? You’ll not be surprised to hear me say that we need to create a more sustainable and circular food system. Where to start, though? When the pressure is on and you need to act now, here are the five things you should be focusing on.
You need them now more than ever, and they are struggling. The percentage of adults reporting mental health challenges nearly quadrupled during the pandemic, and that was before the cost of living started to spike. Review your benefits to make sure you are really putting well-being at the heart of your employment strategy. Think about stock options for staff so they feel they are investing with you for the future. Make commitments to your communities and to the environment that show you care about more than just getting product out the door and your bottom line.
2. Food loss + waste prevention
When every single input to your production process (e.g. labour, raw materials, energy and water) costs more, then every pound of food or beverage wasted has a bigger impact on your bottom line. Food waste prevention has a 14:1 return on investment. Start with an assessment and figure out what you can prevent, then look at the by-products you are sending out to animal feed, compost or landfill and see if you can upcycle them.
3. Value chains
The pandemic kick-started the repatriation of value chains, but a lot more needs to be done. With higher fuel prices and shipping costs, start by revisiting the economic case for a more local value chain. In parallel, build a redundancy model on critical items you need for production because we are heading for even greater disruptions as the impact of fertilizer shortages unfold.
4. Understand your climate impact
Earlier this year, Loblaws and the federal government published their net zero commitments. This is a game-changer for the food and beverage industry. There is urgency now for companies to understand their climate impact and the carbon risk facing their business. Start by getting a solid understanding of your baseline (e.g. how much carbon emissions your business is responsible for). Then do an assessment to figure out your energy, water and waste per unit of production and identify ways to reduce them (carbon emissions are embedded in all your utilities and food that is wasted). Finally, make a commitment to reduce your carbon emissions. Control what is within your four walls first, and monitor, measure and track reduction performance to show you are making a difference.
Look beyond your own value chains at industry associations and advocacy networks to see if they are actively engaging in a positive way around climate change. The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change clearly draws the link between private sector advocacy and failure of policymakers to pass the required legislation to accelerate climate mitigation. Look to see if your membership dues are actively supporting climate action or whether they are hindering it and make your voice count.
Margins in our industry have never been tighter, but this is not the time to cut your investments in people and business. Invest in paying your talent well and looking after them, first. Then invest in carbon reduction, automation and productivity.
At the start of the year, the question most food and beverage companies were asking was how to make net zero affordable. The world has changed since then. Today the question is how to get to net zero faster so that food and beverage products can remain affordable.
We have taken a giant leap into the unknown. But there is one constant through all this – climate change. Focus on how your business responds to that and you’ll find a sustainable path through the rest of the chaos.
Cher Mereweather, CEO of Anthesis Provision, is a Canadian-based food industry sustainability expert.
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