Shaping up for the future

Legislative pressures are pushing food and drink manufacturers to deliver like never before. David Kidby reports on an industry experiencing great changes, and examines what it needs to do to boost its environmental credentials.

The food and drink industry is focusing on its environmental impacts, not only to meet forthcoming IPPC legislation but also to ensure it meets consumers’ expectations. Waste minimisation is offering a route to profitability and the food and drink industry is keener than ever to realise the hidden profits in its operations. The sector produces at least 10-12M tonnes of waste each year, second only to the construction industry, and it is in the area of waste that is a lot of profit can be found. A recent survey demonstrated that only 28 per cent of small and medium sized businesses had introduced practical waste minimisation measures to reduce their impact on the environment. However, 45 per cent said they would welcome help and guidance. Envirowise, a government programme that provides free practical advice to industry on how to improve its environmental performance, is helping hundreds of businesses across the sector to implement cost-effective resource management strategies in response to tightening legislation and commercial pressures.

On January 27, representatives of the UK food and drink manufacturing industry, from every element of the supply chain, arrived at Orton Hall Hotel in Peterborough, for an Envirowise conference – Profit Through Efficiency. The conference addressed issues surrounding the environmental impact of day-to-day production at food and drink companies. Through a series of engaging and informative workshops, the conference tackled waste minimisation, water use, Environmental Management Systems and packaging design.

Environmental legislation

John Sweeney of the Environment Agency highlighted the impact of IPPC on the industry and the ramifications of environmental legislation. The food processing industry is faced with increasingly strict environmental legislation and pressure from customers and stakeholders to improve its environmental performance. Landfill tax is set to rise to £15 per tonne by this year with a long-term target of £35 per tonne. The EC Packaging Waste Directive obliges larger processing companies to take responsibility for recovering and recycling a proportion of the packaging waste they produce and by 2005 the EC Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive will also apply to the UK food industry. John Sweeney is quick to point out the need for diligence. “The Pollution Prevention and Control regulations require the food and drink industry to adopt, even more enthusiastically, good environmental practice, particularly on resource efficiency. This conference provided useful pointers on the way forward”, he said.

While complying with legislation is an important issue for the industry, the central theme for the day, ‘save your food and drink company money’, seemed more of an incentive, attracting even the giants of the industry. They were keen to understand how environmental performance could improve productivity. Keynote speaker Mike Barry, sustainable development manager for Marks and Spencer explained why. “The food and drink industry is under immense pressure from legislation but in today’s consumer driven market the customer is forcing us to look at environmental issues in response to their expectation for higher standards. They want a great product with a very high standard of production at a lower price. Fantastic quality and an enhanced shelf life without compromising on safety or taste is the order of the day”.

Supply chain management

Mike primarily addressed the importance of good supply chain management in delivering a high quality sustainable product to the consumer. He described how they are committed to ensuring that their suppliers see Marks and Spencer’s environmental business case as their own. This not only enables them to satisfy increasing consumer demand for products that are environmentally friendly but importantly find higher margins for all involved through improved production efficiencies. “Consumption is the new democracy and our customers assume that we are environmentally aware and reducing our environmental impact on their behalf. When proved otherwise, history shows the customer votes with their wallet and this can make a substantial dent in your bottom line. By being more environmentally focused we can find improved efficiency and deliver the increasing consumer expectation of higher quality without paying a higher price. It allows us to compete in a very harsh commercial climate in addition to being good for the environment. This is why it is important that suppliers must be engaged for a retailer to be more sustainable”.

During the afternoon delegates attended workshops delivered by Envirowise specialists created to impart a range of practical skills to help implement change and find hidden profits within their businesses. Leading voices in the food and drink sector shared their experiences of becoming more resourceful and efficient through improving their environmental performance.

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