Sustainability is a significant concern in the food industry, especially as the global population grows and consumer demands evolve. Believe it or not, the food industry is responsible for a large portion of the land usage, emissions, waste and many other environmental issues affecting our society today. Thankfully, there is room for improvement and many food production companies are making changes that will reduce pollution, emissions and waste. Companies are adopting a new focus to save water, energy and resources while making other more sustainable choices. All this sustainability is done while providing high-quality food products that feed the globe and meet consumer demand.
What Is Sustainability?
You’ve likely heard the term sustainability before, but do you know what it means? Many people mistakenly believe that sustainability means the same as environmentalism, but there’s more to it than that. Sustainability is about finding balance and allowing the planet and all the resources it contains to remain available for future generations. These practices focus on meeting the needs of the future while continuing to meet the needs of daily life.
Sustainability can apply to a single resource. For example, bamboo falls under the category of a sustainable resource because it grows quickly, easily and can be re-planted. Many also consider sustainability an overall concept when talking about environmentalism and the health of the planet. Global sustainability includes three main tenets that should remain balance:
- Environmental sustainability: Likely what first comes to mind when discussing sustainability is the environment. This includes natural resource replenishment and management and keeping all ecological systems in balance.
- Economic sustainability: True sustainability also includes facets of the economy like financial independence and the ability for all humans to meet their needs with a secure source of income.
- Social sustainability: Sustainable global systems also ensure people can meet their basic needs with fairness and equity. Health, workers’ rights, respect for cultural differences and protection against discrimination are all considered.
Sustainability may have slightly different definitions and motivations for different groups of people, but what it comes down to is the viability of our planet and all of the systems it contains. It’s about how we will leave the earth for the next generations.
Why Sustainability Matters
Sustainability is an essential concept for everyone to understand and has applications across all industries. In fact, the reasons behind the importance of sustainability are quite simple — if we do not embrace sustainability practices, broadly and globally, life as we know it on earth simply cannot continue. There lives a genuine threat that the planet will run out of natural resources like fossil fuels, clean water and air, lumber and plants to eat if sustainability efforts don’t persist. A lack of sustainability also leads to mass species extinction, irreversible climate change, and other dangerous results that may have a ripple effect throughout larger ecosystems.
When we take these consequences into account, it’s easy to see why sustainability is so important for everyone. Whether it’s one individual, a household, a small business or a giant corporation, we can all make changes that focus on increasing sustainability. Implementing more sustainable practices helps to ensure that life can continue on our planet for many generations into the future. It also ensures that the quality of our environment in the present is protected.
As mentioned before, sustainability goes beyond just environmentalism. Sustainable practices have many other benefits too, including:
- Improved health through better air and water quality
- Social and cultural awareness and protections
- Energy efficiency and cost savings
- Reduced consumerism
The importance of sustainability can’t be stressed enough. If you want the planet to continue supporting life, making sustainability changes should be a top priority.
Sustainability in the Food Industry
Sustainability practices and priorities can look different for different types of businesses and industries. So, what does this mean for the food industry? The food industry is massive and involves growing and producing food, transporting, preparing, packaging and disposal. The food industry is responsible for a considerable portion of the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions globally — possibly as much as 40%. In an industry this large and impactful, there’s lots of room for improvement and even small changes can make a huge difference.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the areas of the food industry that are ripe for improvements in sustainability:
- Agriculture: It takes a lot of energy, time and resources to grow your food. The agriculture portion is generally the most energy-intensive and produces more greenhouse gasses than other parts of the supply chain when you look at the food production industry as a whole. Water pollution is another common problem for agriculture, as chemicals used for fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and animal waste can leach into groundwater and runoff into water sources. Water used for irrigation is often not used effectively and goes to waste.
- Manufacturing: In today’s modern world, much of the food we eat is further processed. This process of turning raw foods into frozen, canned and otherwise packaged foods uses up a massive amount of energy, water and other resources. Manufacturing also generates a lot of food waste due to improper or inefficient temperature controls, gaps in supply and demand and, aesthetic variations in produce.
- Packaging: A lot of resources go into packaging food. Unfortunately, packaging for food products is necessary to get foods to the consumer safely and effectively, while preserving freshness and quality. However, so much of the packaging used is not produced from recycled materials and is not recycled after use, but instead ends up in landfills.
- Distribution: Much of the food we consume travels a great distance to get to our stores, homes and restaurants. Certain ingredients and finished food products even travel across the globe before getting to the consumer. Airplanes, ships and semi-trucks all transport food and distribute it. These transporters consume fossil fuels and other resources. Storing food in warehouses and grocery stores also consumes large amounts of energy to keep foods at safe temperatures for the consumer.
- Disposal: At the end of the food industry’s life cycle is the disposal of waste. Grocery stores may have fresh foods they don’t sell that go to waste. People buy foods, don’t use them in time and then waste the food. Additionally, all of the excess packaging of processed foods gets thrown away, contributing to a big problem of food disposal waste and single-use materials that end up in landfills or as litter and pollution.
It’s easy to see that the food industry negatively impacts the environment, but steps many in the food industry are taking steps to improve sustainability efforts. Here are some strategies that make a big difference in this industry becoming more sustainable:
- Water conservation: Several steps in the food supply chain can benefit from water conservation, especially in agriculture. Irrigation of crops can not only use up lots of water but much of it is wasted through evaporation. Many farms are using drip irrigation systems rather than sprinklers to prevent water loss to evaporation and conserve more water for the crops that need it.
- Organic farming: Many of today’s industrial-sized farms utilize more modern techniques like chemical fertilizers and pesticides to boost food production. However, many farms are turning to organic farming to help with sustainability efforts. Organic farming doesn’t use any chemicals but instead uses natural pest control and fertilization methods. It also may focus on water conservation and crop rotation for naturally healthier soils.
- Energy and fuel conservation: The machinery used for food production and manufacturing can significantly drain fuel and electricity sources, not to mention the vehicles used for transporting and distributing food products. Transportation and logistics teams are choosing to use more efficient modes of transportation to save on fuel and energy and transport goods more effectively. New technologies in this sector, such as dual-temperature vehicles, mean that food products can be transported more quickly and efficiently, reducing the need for multiple trucks to each destination.
- Switching to less farming-intensive foods: Certain foods require more land and resources to produce the same amount of food for the consumer. Meat-based products, especially beef, are incredibly resource-intensive for farms, requiring far more land, water, crops and other resources to produce. Even eggs and dairy are very resource-intensive. With a new focus on plant-based products, farms are shifting gears to create these more sustainable sources of food. This shift to plant-based also aligns with the ever-growing consumer demand for more plant-based products. It’s a win for the animals, the environment, producers and consumers!
- Better packaging solutions: A large percentage of food packaging simply ends up as waste, so anything to reduce this is helpful. Many companies are switching to food product packaging that contains sustainable materials. A lot of companies now use recyclable packaging or packaging made with recycled materials. This shift helps reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
Looking Ahead at the Future
The farther into the future you look, the more crucial sustainability in the food industry becomes. Food sustainability is of the utmost importance to support life on earth for future generations. Without food, humans cannot survive, and the larger the global population grows, the more food we need to sustain life. You must make changes now towards a more sustainable future.
The world’s population currently sits at around 7.7 billion, and it’s expected to grow by another 2 billion by 2050. This exponential growth in population over the next few decades will seriously tax the food industry, which already struggles to effectively feed the world sustainably. A growing demand for more food products means more land used up for agriculture, more natural habitat destruction, more emissions and pollution, more packaging waste and other issues too.
While all of this sounds a little dire and scary, it doesn’t have to be. Making changes now will help ensure the sustainability of the food supply for the future and make improvements in the present. This process is something that requires a multi-pronged approach. Individual businesses and corporations can make changes in their processes to help promote sustainability. Leaders in the industry can also work with governments and lawmakers to enact policy changes to ensure industry-wide changes.
Additionally, more organic-focused companies are making their way into the industry. More companies are offering completely organic food options, while others tackle the growing food waste issue and get would-be-wasted food to people who need it. The emergence of new businesses with a sustainability mindset in the food and industry can help reshape the food industry to focus on more sustainable practices.
Consumer demand is also a powerful tool that continues to shape the food industry. A growing number of today’s consumers value sustainability and actively seek out organic, plant-based products and have more environmentally friendly disposal and packaging options. In essence, these consumers vote with their dollars and demand more sustainable products.
Choosing American Food & Vending
At American Food & Vending, we understand the importance of sustainability in our industry. We are proud of our commitment to a clean environment, healthy eating, sustainable food sourcing, and limiting waste. Our innovative eco-friendly solutions include a wide range of initiatives that keep sustainability at the core of everything we do.
We know that food waste is one of the biggest problems in our industry, and so we promote smaller batch cooking to minimize waste. Proper food disposal, composting and inventory management also contribute to solving this issue. We participate in a program that re-uses spent cooking oils into biofuel to ensure we make use of every component we use in the food-making process.
Our company focuses heavily on reusable materials. We use recycling programs and re-use materials to help cut down on waste. We promote the use of washable china, sustainable cutlery, and reusable to-go containers to cut down on disposable waste. Our company also works with our suppliers to provide local, in-season ingredients whenever possible, building partnerships with suppliers who share our eco-minded and socially responsible values.
We also strive for energy conservation in all facets of our food distribution and preparation and are constantly improving the process to waste less. We also encourage the promotion of educational and community events that support sustainability, such as local harvest events. The American Dining Creations menus typically promote a low-carbon diet, along with Meatless Mondays, and strive to educate the end consumer on the benefits of a more sustainable diet.
Our mission is to bring culinary excellence to the table while using safe and sustainable foods to deliver a fresh meal that’s good for you and the environment.
Make the Shift to Sustainable Food Services with American Food & Vending
Interested in finding out more about what we do and how we can help your organization? Our full-service hospitality and food services are used in a wide variety of settings and always strive for the best in sustainability practices. Contact us today to see how we can help you shift towards providing more healthy, sustainable food options to your organization.