Sustainability

Sustainability does not just include reductions in waste and carbon footprint. Sustainability encompasses the whole of a business to ensure that they, their suppliers and their customers can work together to maintain a resilient food production system. This will include increased use of concepts such as circular economy, as well as appreciation of the impact of external forces beyond the control of one company.

Fundamental needs

  • As legal limits for contaminants (e.g. allergens, toxins or pathogens) trend lower, there is a need for fast, accurate tests for these substances. Modern production practices alo demand that these tests be performed on-line. There is also a need for communication between legislators and industry to agree on practical limits which do not result in unneccessary waste of food. Consideration also needs to be given to the detection of genuine food fraud (as opposed to contamination) and the consequences of a positive result.
  • Reduction of carbon footprint relies on accurate measurement of the effect of changes. What is appropriate for one facet of the industry (e.g. local sourcing of ingredients) may not have the same impact in a different product area. Guidance on the principles of carbon footprint reduction and advice on practical steps to take is required by industry.
  • Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental effects of their food choices. Better communication between consumers and industry will help inform consumers regarding the steps taken by industry to make more sustainable products, and it will inform industry of the drivers behind consumer choices.
  • Packaging material and its end of life journey are fundamental to improving the sustainability of food products. Novel, more sustainable, packaging materials must provide the same functionality as those they replace. There is a need to accurately test the properties of novel materials as well as standards against which to test. These standards must include sustainability measures such as recyclability.
  • There is always a need for better ways of detecting and mitigating against pests, disease and poor yield. This is ever more pressing in response to the changing climate, which is introducing new pressures to productive agricultural areas. Limited resources, such as phosphorous, need to be conserved whilst seeking new sources. These pressures will result in changing agronomic and agricultural practices, the impact of which must be understood by manufacturers, retailers and consumers.
  • Better traceability of ingredients, packaging and products are essential to improve sustainability. Standards need to be developed for innovations such as Blockchain.
  • Systems to aid sustainability are needed. These include: Recovery and recycling packaging; Health and Safety of the workforce; Novel production practices with sustainability at as a core driver; Crisis management; Management of supply and demand.
  • The increasing use of connected devices and systems in the food industry has increased the potential for cyber attack. There is a need for robust protection of data and devices.
  • The food industry has a need for better waste management. Valorisation of waste streams as part of a circular economy is needed. Packaging forms a significant portion of food industry waste, and there is a need to increase the recyclability of food packaging. Consumers are also key to waste reduction through better education regarding re-use and recycling of packaging as well as ways to reduce food waste. The industry is also always in need of shelf life extension for perishable products as a waste reduction measure.

Emerging needs

  • Supply chains face many threats. One of these is the risk of food fraud. There is a need for increased surveillance of supplies to maintain confidence in supply chains.
  • The food industry is making increased efforts to reduce use of energy and water. There is a need to communicate these efforts to the wider public.
  • Climate change is putting pressure on agriculture. For the brewing industry, there is a need to understand the impacts on hop and cereal yields, and there is a need to exploit opportunities such as increased viticulture in the UK.
  • Sustainability is an admirable goal, however measuring its attainment is difficult. Standard methods for measurement of metrics such as carbon footprint and life cycle assessment need to be implemented to objectively benchmark the progress of companies.
  • The production and use of oils such as Palm oil needs to be carefully considered for environmental impact. In cases where novel replacements such as insect oil are chosen, there is a need to educate consumers on the benefits.
  • Packaging is integral to reducing food waste and extending shelf life, whilst at the same time increasing environmental impact and use of resources. Lightweight materials or compostable packaging need to maintain the functionality of that they replace whilst also appealing to the consumer. Particular challenges highlighted recently included: Animal products in packaging and implications for religious requirements; Operational implications of lightweighting; Shelf life effects of novel packaging materials; Perception of premium products, such as spirits, re-packaged in lightweighted packs.
  • Shifts in protein consumption have placed pressure on supplies of alternatives to animal proteins. There is a need to explore the functionality, nutritional profile, safety and legal status of multiple alternative sources. This is particularly relevant in light of recent rises in the price of organic soya.
  • Recycling is increasingly used to reduce environmental impact, however there are challenges that need to be addressed to improve its contribution to a circular economy. Key to the UK is the need to encourage further recycling by businesses and consumers (e.g. deposit schemes), and to harmonise local approaches to collection, sorting and processing of recyclable materials.
  • Supply chains have a global reach. Recent events such as the pandemic and the blockage of the Suez canal have highlighted the vulnerabilities inherent in them. There s a need to improve supply chain resilience, either through diversification of supplier base or via more local sourcing.
  • Raw material costs such as steel, tinplate and LDPE are increasing, as is the price of caustic for cleaning. There is a need to resist passing on inflationary pressures to the wider economy whilst balancing growing a healthy business.
  • Waste reduction and re-use is a fundamental part of increasing sustainability. Recently, working with retailer ordering systems has been highlighted as being important for manufacturers to be able to reduce waste via diverting excess stock.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Campden BRI but are a summary of industrial feedback obtained from Campden BRI’s Member Interest Groups and interactions with government bodies and wider industry.

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