The challenges have been set, now business must rise to them

In the food business, Mission Possible should really be 'Mission Necessary'. We'll have to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050. And we'll have to do so without destroying the natural resources on which food production depends.

The challenges have been set, now business must rise to them

The key challenges of climate change, water risk, waste and land use are huge and diverse. They reach right across our supply chain from farm to fork, and beyond. We need to think in new ways to overcome them and achieve positive impact for people and planet.

Achieving radical cuts in CO2 emissions means understanding the real drivers. Cutting CO2 emissions from our own operations is clearly the right thing to do. So, we’ll continue to use energy more efficiently and use more renewables as we seek to decouple emissions from growth.

REPORT: The future of sustainability in food & drink manufacturing

This blog was used as the foreword in edie’s latest sector insight report, which provides an end-to-end overview of the steps that organisations within Britain’s food & drink manufacturing industry can take to achieve a sustainable future, today.

Read the report here.

But that’s only the start. The resources we use to make our products – food ingredients – have a much bigger impact than our operations. This impact is beyond our direct control, so achieving a sustainable future depends on adopting smart solutions and the right mindset in three key ways.

Look forward, not back

Perhaps more than any topic, food stirs memories of the past. It’s tempting to think the old ways were better, more natural, or more wholesome. But the old ways won’t feed 10 billion people.

We need to look forward and embrace innovation at every level: new technologies, new ideas and new forms of collaboration.

Productivity is at the core of sustainability because it means making more efficient use of resources. For example, deforestation makes up the largest part of our carbon footprint and is driving climate change globally. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana supply about 60% of the world’s cocoa but both have high deforestation rates, estimated at nearly 3%. Persistently low productivity in cocoa farming is at the heart of this challenge: to produce more, cocoa farmers increase their land area by expanding into the forest. This, in turn, disrupts local rainfall patterns and causes production to shift across the landscape.

We’re helping farmers grow more cocoa on less land. That way, they will be better off and the forest better protected. We’re investing £308 million through our sourcing programme, Cocoa Life, to help grow opportunities for farmers and communities, including investments in productivity training, access to inputs and good environmental practices. A productivity mindset also helps us to reduce waste in our own operations, where we’re looking to adopt a zero-waste mindset. Since 2013, we’ve reduced total manufacturing waste by 15%, towards our goal of 20% by 2020. Since much of this is food waste, it reduces the environmental burden of food production as well as increasing productivity.

Collaborate to change the system

You can never become sustainable on your own. Sustainability needs to be mainstream and sector-wide. So, avoid difficulty, expense, or exclusivity and focus instead on affordable, scalable collaboration.

For example, sustainability programmes and standards have improved practices and raised awareness, but they need support from jurisdiction and landscape approaches to embed sustainability across the board. We helped to instigate the Cocoa and Forest Initiative, a collaborative framework involving all the major chocolate and cocoa companies, along with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Together, we’re creating a joint action plan to fight deforestation to complement our own Cocoa Life programme.

Likewise, we collaborate with industry peers to address the challenge of plastic waste. Plastic is a highly efficient and effective packaging material and a key element for food safety and quality. Without it, the shelf life of many products would be far shorter and add to the environmental impact of food waste. But the challenges of plastic waste are well documented and urgent action is required.

As well as our own goals to ensure all our packaging is recyclable by 2025, we’re supporting industry coalitions and public-private partnerships to develop vital waste management infrastructure to reduce waste and improve real-world recycling rates. Bringing all this together are global platforms to drive common approaches to the major challenges.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a common framework to address the key issues around the social and environmental impacts. They are just as relevant to business as other stakeholders and, like many other companies, we’ve started to align them to our programmes. In the field of reporting, CDP has established common principles for companies to disclose climate change and water impacts and is helping build the movement for science-based targets to help companies set meaningful, long-term ambitions. Collectively, we must rise to these challenges to deliver ‘Mission Necessary’ and secure a sustainable future.

Jonathan Horrell is director global sustainability for the snacking company Mondelēz International.

This blog was extracted from edie’s food and drink manufacturing sustainability report. Produced in association with Centrica Business Solutions, the in-depth report demonstrates the steps that must be taken for food & drink manufacturing organisations to scale-up action across all areas of sustainable development. READ THE FULL REPORT HERE.

Horrell will be appearing in a one-hour webinar on Thursday 22 November, where he will be discussing the various challenges and opportunities facing low-carbon, resource-efficient manufacturing. REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR HERE.

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