Unlocking a sustainable future for the food and drink industry

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In a complicated landscape of volatile food prices, increasingly scarce natural resources and a global population expected to reach a staggering 8.2 billion by 2030, we find ourselves at a crossroads. It’s one where individuals, governments and industries need to reassess how resources are used and reused. We need to put into practice the measures to implement the highest environmental standards, while achieving economic growth – we need to bring to life the circular economy.

The food and drink industry is firmly committed to continue making the necessary changes, but also sharing more broadly where we’re already achieving results. World Environment Day marks the launch of our new sister-site which outlines our goals, how we are already achieving these, and how we aim to improve our future performance.

The European Commission defines a circular economy as where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste is minimised. For the food and drink industry this means continuously improving efficiency in our use of resources such as water, energy and other raw materials needed for production and supply chain management. These efforts also need to boost jobs and growth while making a contribution to improving infrastructure and technology, through innovation, investment and collaboration with partners.

As part of a life-cycle approach, we focus our efforts on the three main stages of the food chain - from farm to fork. Taking this broad approach means we can identify every opportunity to improve practices and encourage others to do the same. The food and drink industry is striving to identify the causes of food waste and optimising practices to tackle these by working with partners.

Food and drink manufacturers work directly with raw material producers to reduce food losses and improve sustainability. We help farmers increase the quality of their produce and maintain this quality for longer. Through better cultivation techniques, new storage technology and more efficient logistics, both farmers and manufacturers enjoy premium prices thanks to their higher quality produce. Efforts are also being made to ‘close the loop’ during the production phase and increase resource efficiency through by-product and co-product innovation. For example, some food can be used on-farm as animal feed or fertiliser, as demonstrated by dairy farms that supply Danone.

At the manufacturing stage, innovation has improved resource efficiency whilst continuing impeccable food hygiene and safety standards, a priority for the industry. Waste has been reduced and the overall environmental performance of products has improved, driven by Life-Cycle Assessments that help tailor packaging to individual products and markets. Nestle’s approach to packaging has saved 22,000 tons of PET worldwide from waste in the last three years.

Communicating the importance of our efforts and encouraging others to work for the same outcomes is an important part of what we do. We have twelve recommendations that outline our goals, recognising the multi-level effort required for meaningful change. Through a number of initiatives we are re-framing the dialogue, raising awareness of the issues and the solution and altering attitudes amongst the public and the wider industry so we may all work towards more sustainable food supply chain.

Commitment to assessing and enhancing environmental performance, as well as working to reduce waste in food and drink production, is of course about efficiency. However, our goals extend far beyond individual company profit margins as this industry is determined to improve growth and jobs, alongside fighting the issues of resource scarcity and waste.