Sustainable manufacturing and environmentalism have moved from being buzzwords into crucial mainstream business practices. Sustainability is an important business objective for a growing number of manufacturers, particularly in the food and beverage industry.
Because F&B producers deal directly with a consumable, perishable product, they have a direct stake in process sustainability. Waste is the enemy of both profitability and our environment. You’ll find many food processors leading the way in environmentalism.
What exactly is environmentalism?
The literal dictionary definition of environmentalism includes, “... advocacy of the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment ... ”
Many food and beverage manufacturers are working toward preserving our natural resources—water, air, land, and the like—not just because of regulatory compliance but also because it’s the right thing to do.
From a business-growth perspective, companies that are dedicated to environmental and sustainability initiatives are reducing risk, lowering costs, improving productivity, and enhancing their reputation.
What is sustainable manufacturing?
So, how can the F&B processing community implement and benefit from sustainable manufacturing?
First, let’s define what the term sustainable manufacturing means.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states:
“Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. Sustainable manufacturing also enhances employee, community, and product safety.”
Pursuing sustainability is an investment; manufacturers should look at sustainability as more than an expense. Sustainable manufacturing—especially in the food and beverage sector—doesn’t necessarily cost; it actually pays. In fact, according to the EPA, there are several reasons companies are pursuing sustainable manufacturing, including:
- Increasing operational efficiency, reducing both costs and waste
- Responding to or reaching new potential customers concerned about sustainability
- Gaining or increasing their competitive advantage
- Protecting and strengthening their brand and reputation
- Building long-term business viability
- Maintaining regulatory compliance
Food’s journey from farm to fork begins with getting the ingredients to the factory—in other words, procurement. That’s the first of the “3 P’s” of sustainable manufacturing. Let’s take a look at all three.
What is sustainable procurement?
Consumers are increasingly more concerned about where their food comes from. They want to know it’s safe, comes from a sustainable source, and will be of good quality.
This is a tall order, for sure. For food and beverage processors—as well as other consumer packaged goods companies—the consumer and end user are the ultimate sources of pressure to produce.
You can’t blame consumers. Various animal disease outbreaks, such as swine and avian flu and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, have given them cause for alarm and concern. They want to make sure food safety protocols are in place and that the food supply is intact. And, of course, that includes care and concern about the environment and using sustainable practices.
But, consumers aren’t the only ones manufacturers need to be concerned with when it comes to sustainable procurement. While consumers sometimes storm the castle of the F&B company, their questions and complaints are often filtered through other sources.
In October 2021, Food Processing magazine Senior Editor Pan Demetrakakes revealed a few more, including major retailers:
“Large chains of restaurants and food retailers often impose conditions on their suppliers about all sorts of social issues, including sustainability.
Whole Foods, for instance, requires that all the seafood it sells be certified as sustainably caught by the Marine Stewardship Council or a similar organization.
McDonald’s says in its ‘supplier code of conduct’ that ‘suppliers are responsible for managing, measuring, and minimizing the environmental impact of their facilities’ in aspects that include air emissions, waste management, water use and disposal, and greenhouse gas emissions.”
There are other sources, often investors and financial groups, that lean on F&B companies to use sustainable manufacturing practices and lessen their impact on the environment. So the best advice is to know your ingredients supplier operations inside and out.
In today’s industrial environment, transparency is paramount.
Now, on to the factory floor.
What is sustainable processing?
Sustainable processing deals with efficient production, with a minimum of waste or downtime—in other words, increasing your facility’s overall equipment efficiency (OEE).
You can do this by using Industry 4.0 technologies for enhanced continuous improvement. This relies heavily on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), including data collection, analytics reporting, the identification of bottlenecks, and upgraded predictive maintenance strategies.
That’s exactly what Worximity does with our Tile+, Tilelytics, and Smart Sensor Tileconnect products. The only way to optimize sustainable processing is to know exactly what’s going on in and around your system at all times.
Human interaction is necessary, even vital. But human error can be nearly eliminated using the right technology.
Everyone—from the machine operator to the floor supervisor to upper management—should be a part of the OEE process and continuous improvement initiative. Data collection and analytics should be carried out and acted upon in real time. Adjustments can be made on the fly to decrease waste or rerun operations.
Machine and equipment monitoring, using real-time data, allows for the graceful planned shutdown of critical equipment for maintenance tasks. When a machine stops unexpectedly, everything grinds to a halt, and chaos ensues.
That’s not something you want, and it’s not sustainable by any means.
Maintaining machine efficiency is critical in the food industry. You’re working with a perishable product, often one that is easily damaged. To stay on top of your key performance indicators, you need to monitor throughput, examine your yield, identify potential downtime, and keep up with product-per-manhour metrics.
Efficiency in the processing and production step is critical for ensuring the overall sustainable manufacturing goals are met, especially in the food and beverage industry.
Industry 4.0 best practices and the application of IIoT are vital to achieving your company goals for sustainability and profitability.
Let’s wrap it all up with packaging.
What is sustainable packaging?
There’s no way around it. Packaging is a challenge on a global scale. National Geographic magazine outlined the horrifying extent of the problem:
“Of the 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging produced globally each year, a mere 14 percent is recycled. Lightweight and floatable, plastic that escapes collection flows into our oceans—nine million tons annually—most of it from developing nations that lack the infrastructure to manage it. The problem is expected to get worse as those nations grow richer and inevitably start consuming more packaged foods, and as many others in an increasingly convenience-obsessed world continue to purchase meal-kit and grocery services—which generate considerable packaging—and take-out foods.”
Plastic is both a savior and an enemy. For example, shrink-wrapping a cucumber with polyethylene increases its shelf life from three to 14 days. But the life span of the wrap itself? Well over 100 years!
Many F&B and CPG companies are experimenting with packaging options to keep down landfill waste. Some ideas are as simple as removing the plastic window on a carton or box.
Others replace the Styrofoam shipping peanuts used to cushion perishables with biodegradable, compostable alternatives. The possibilities are endless and quite fascinating. But it’s definitely something to consider if you want to achieve truly sustainable manufacturing and lessen your impact on the environment.
That’s a wrap!
No matter how you slice it, the food and beverage industry impacts the environment, either in a good way or bad. How you affect the blue and green orb we call Earth depends on how your company addresses sustainable manufacturing.
With sustainable procurement, processing, and packaging, your company can become a force for good.
It’s imperative, not just for ourselves but also for future generations of hungry consumers. You can begin by developing a more efficient manufacturing and processing facility to reduce waste.
In that quest, Worximity stands ready, willing, and able to help.
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