This is Part 2 of a three-part series on sustainability. Read Part 1.
One of the challenging aspects of sustainability is that it means different things to different people. In the past, sustainability was conceived more narrowly — mainly targeting environmental-friendliness through initiatives such as reducing greenhouse gases and energy usage. Today, sustainability is viewed much more broadly, with efforts from promoting regenerative agriculture to supporting smallholder farming communities, to increasing workforce diversity all falling under the sustainability umbrella.
This article outlines five key focus areas for bakery and snack manufacturers looking to become more sustainable. They target environmental initiatives, and thus do not represent the full sustainability landscape. But they are areas where any company, regardless of size or product portfolio, can likely find ways to improve.
In the next article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at some specific actions companies can take to improve sustainability in their processing operations.
Consumers are more interested than ever in where their food comes from. In the bakery industry in particular, they’re seeking out ingredients that they perceive as healthy for themselves (e.g., label claims such as organic and non-GMO) and for the environment (e.g., regenerative agriculture practices, local sourcing).
Ideas for sustainable sourcing
- Use whole grains, which use less land and water, improve soil fertility, and provide more food by volume than refined grains
- Source cocoa products from partners committed to ending deforestation and providing a living income for cocoa producers (see the Beyond Chocolate initiative)
- Use RSPO-certified palm oil or replace palm oil with alternatives such as algae butter
Food waste has a major environmental impact. Not only does making food require resources (raw materials, water, energy), but as much as 40% of the food that is produced in the United States ends up in the landfill, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than CO2.
Ideas for waste reduction
- Optimize your production line to minimize the amount of product that needs to be discarded
- Educate consumers about the environmental impacts of food waste and provide ideas and recipes for using up products that are close to expiration
- Use clean label products to extend shelf life — for example, adding 1% vinegar by flour weight can help preserve sourdough bread
Energy efficiency is key to reducing carbon emissions. According to Campden BRI, the proofer, oven, cooler, and associated steam boiler plant accounts for 50-60% of total carbon emissions in industrial bakeries, with the oven being the biggest culprit. You can use the EPA’s Commercial Bread & Roll Bakery Energy Performance Indicator to determine your current energy performance and areas for improvement.
Ideas for boosting energy efficiency
- Invest in new energy-efficient equipment — many industrial bakeries are still using equipment that was installed 30+ years ago and does not have today’s energy-efficient features
- Clean and maintain your equipment to keep it running at peak performance
- Adjust the baking process — some research suggests that lowering the core temperature and reducing water content can also decrease energy requirements
Together, food and packaging account for 45% of all material in U.S. landfills. Because this is a very visible kind of waste, and consumers in many areas are highly motivated to decrease their own garbage, most food company sustainability targets include a transition to more eco-friendly packaging.
Ideas for more sustainable packaging
- Reduce the amount of packaging per container or use lighter weight packaging
- Use a certain percentage of post-consumer waste, such as recycled plastic, in food packaging
- Convert all packaging to recyclable or industrially compostable materials
Transportation is not the food industry’s biggest source of carbon emissions — estimates put it somewhere between 3% and 6% — but every mile a food product travels contributes to its overall footprint.
Ideas for more sustainable transportation
- Source ingredients closer to where they are processed
- Bring all operations under the same roof by integrating processing/packaging and warehousing facilities
- Use electric forklifts and other vehicles inside manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution facilities
Whether you’re just starting out on your sustainability journey or are already on your way to Net Zero, every step counts. Stay tuned for our next article on how to optimize your bakery operations for energy efficiency.