The phrase “we need to protect the environment for future generations” are familiar words that send a positive message, and one that all businesses and industries should be focused on. Discussing how the UK is working towards a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Zarina Mohd, process project manager at IFP, looks at what part the food industry can do to achieve this.
To tackle the climate crisis and achieve the net-zero target, all emissions must be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere. The impact of climate change over the last century has been noticed globally, with food production being at the forefront. Now is the time for the industry to take action.
The carbon footprint of food is a measure of the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with all activities in the life cycle of the product. All foodstuffs have environmental footprints of their own. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty around how many emissions can be attributable to food production specifically, as it is very complex and usually involves multiple processes to get to the finished product.
It is difficult to fully understand the potent greenhouse emissions created through biological processes used in food production, but a useful way to understand the impact it has on the environment is to measure the consumer’s ecological footprint. This is the amount of land required to farm our food, mine our energy sources, transport our goods and services, or hold our waste. Reducing these where possible will have a direct correlation with reducing the carbon footprint caused by food producers.
Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge – especially with the goal of trying to achieve net-zero carbon. It will require various compromises in the areas which can contribute the most towards achieving this ambition, which in most cases is the role that the land plays in the carbon cycle. This is vital; land continuously absorbs greenhouse gases, protecting the atmosphere with the plants and trees that are planted. That being said, deforestation in order to grow crops for the food industry contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, as there are less trees to absorb the harmful gases.
So, would tree planting to counterbalance land clearing, prevent further emissions from being released into the atmosphere?
In this case it is the biological interaction that we need to gain greater scientific insight on. As its name suggests, biodiversity refers to every living thing including plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms. Habitat biodiversity is where the variety of life interacts with each other and their natural environment. Habitat destruction can cause a rapid loss of biodiversity and extinction of species, as well as allowing harmful gases to be released into the atmosphere.
Consumers have, over time, built up a desire for the year-round enjoyment of diverse foods, not taking seasonality into consideration, which unfortunately links directly to the environmental issue of deforestation as more crops need to be planted. However, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020, many food manufacturers made the choice to focus on core products, with the manufacturing of different varieties halted. This wasn’t environmentally led but it did have a positive outcome. Instead, it was the industry reaction to the overwhelming stresses on the food supply chains due to the pandemic, with bottlenecks in farming, processing, transport and logistics.
Consumer demands for diverse food has shaped the food industry, offering a variety of different products for all the essential nutrients and energy we need. This has led to competition among food manufacturers in order to achieve and maintain their market share and also means products are supplied at better value for the consumers – it’s a win for all! I believe that new product development – often driven by market data – is the backbone to the food manufacturing industry. However, the food processors have the power to influence innovation in the supply chain too, from the sourcing of raw materials to the packaging format.
The food industry is already playing an important part in the strategy to reduce carbon emissions; using renewable energies, reducing road miles, increasing product recovery, recycled packaging and reducing effluent volumes and water usage. However, as discussed earlier, the biological component such as crops and livestock within food production systems could result in habitat destruction through deforestation. Through this perspective, the food industry needs to be proactive in strengthening the synergy between biodiversity and food demand in all aspects, including driving product innovation that meets with the net-zero carbon target.
Integrated Food Projects have partnered with Kettleby Foods on a number of high-profile multi-million pound capital projects since 2003/4, helping the business to develop and grow. Throughout that time they have provided cost-effective and efficient solutions on development projects both at our existing ready meals production facility and also in creating a new satellite facility. The projects at our existing facility were managed without impact on our ability to service our own clients, and all projects have been delivered within budget, in a timely fashion and to the requisite standards of safety and quality. Their team work ethos and professional approach ensure successful projects and I would utilise Integrated Food Projects in the future without hesitation.
- Jarrod Thorndyke, Production Director
I have worked with Integrated Food Projects on many capital expenditure projects since 2004, the latest being the development of the new plot of land adjacent to our main site. They successfully employed a project delivery process to ensure the integration of a leased modular building solution with the development of the site infrastructure to improve logistics and Health and Safety. Their staff are always positive and enthusiastic and have fostered a team-work approach ensuring another successful project delivered. I look forward to working with them again in the near future.
- Engineering Manager, Major UK Ready Meals Manufacturer