Glance at the news these days, and you’ll be forgiven for being alarmed at what’s happening to the environment. “Climate change grinding down coffee” (CNBC); “The world faces widespread food shortages due to global warming” (Daily Mail UK); “How Drought and Extreme Heat Are Killing the World’s Crops” (TIME)…
Feel like putting your head in the sand? I’m here to gently ease it out. Because for those of us in the F&B industry, the time for denial is well and truly over. If you think only large multinationals need to get serious about environmental strategies and rules, you’re wrong. Perhaps you’ve started to recycle at home? That’s a good start, but you’re not facing the hard reality. Ready? Environmental accountability should be demanded of every F&B professional. This is because the F&B industry is directly linked to the agricultural processes that some say caused this global warming nightmare to begin with. Agriculture, after all, contributes a lot to greenhouse gases, water consumption and pollution. So those of us supplying food and beverages to the world, whatever small corner we operate in, are part of the system putting pressure on the planet. Sure, nobody likes to be take blame. So let’s flip the scenario around. Growing populations are making food and water harder to come by, and this will only continue. Since we rely on these resources to supply F&B, we are most likely to suffer the detrimental effects of climate change.
As an F&B consultant and developer, I keep an eye on the broad F&B picture – the policies and laws being drafted and so on. So should you. For a start, take a look at FoodDrink Europe’s report, ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY VISION TOWARDS 2030: Achievements, Challenges and Opportunities, downloadable here. It outlines how food operators are meeting the challenges of sustainability across the supply chain, and future steps to take. Environmental sustainability is also one of four priority areas in the UAE’s targets, and in Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision for 2030.
So what can you do? I’ll admit: Trying to fix the damage that’s been done to the environment is complex – especially given the resources involved in F&B operations. Going green comes with financial and operational risks, at least at first. But remember, customers are increasingly demanding sustainability when it comes to what they eat and drink. This is but another reason for it to be on your radar.
Quite apart from “doing the right thing”, going green can be good for your business. The Green Hotels and Responsible Tourism Initiative points out studies that prove how pursuing green practices comes with benefits – like better recognition, customer and employee loyalty, and reduced costs. Even if you can’t make large changes, like installing a roof garden or solar energy, you can start small (recycling, switching to energy-saving lightbulbs and low-flow showers etc).
Ready to think green, but not sure where to start? Here are some F&B priority areas: Rethink packaging: The Technavio’s ‘Global Green Packaging Market 2015-2019’ report says the green packaging market (that’s packaging made from raw materials that are sustainable, renewable, and recyclable) looks set to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 7.84% over the next five years – and it’s being fuelled by the F&B industry. To appeal to more conscious customers and do their bit for the environment, the world’s major suppliers (think Coca Cola and Nestlé) are relooking their packaging, and you should too. In addition to boosting your image and helping reduce toxins being leaked into the environment, it can mean lower shipment costs (more clever packaging takes up less space).
Analyse your supply chain, considering sustainability. Remember to take carbon emissions, use of hazardous or non-renewable resources, water usage and energy consumption into account. Are certain suppliers not meeting green standards? Can you diversify and get more eco players in the mix? How can you lessen your carbon footprint over time?
Consider how you operate: Are you conserving or wasting water? Do you frequently toss out food or ingredients? Could you start composting?
Finally, consider where you source from. One 2014 US study, Global Ground: Corporate Progress on the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, found that more than half the F&B companies studied were taking sustainability seriously, and nearly 80% had programmes in place for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Be transparent, be conscious, and set targets and timelines for making progress in this area.
So that’s it. No more excuses. We need to hold ourselves , and each other, accountable. Let’s all do our bit to make the F&B industry more integrous, more transparent, and more earth-friendly.
Duncan Fraser-Smith is the founder of The Cutting Edge Agency that specialises in the development and creation of benchmark F&B concepts through conceptualisation and training, as well as sourcing and partnering with international brands and high-profile chefs to successfully establish their presence in the Middle East.