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Food Processors & Sustainability: Take Credit Where Credit Is Due!

With the tremendous media coverage recently of environmental issues, and the push from certain influential circles for ESG to be a business imperative, there’s been understandable pressure for manufacturers to join the ranks of good corporate citizens and just DO something.

This presents an opportunity for those of us in the food processing world to do something first, something we’ve not been all that good at historically: market ourselves. And it should be easy in this case, because for decades we’ve led the way in environmental improvement efforts in the business world.

First and foremost, our industrialization of food preparation was a tremendous boon to both the environment and to people’s lives, particularly those of women, who traditionally grew the family’s garden, preserved the family’s perishable foods, and prepared the family’s meals. Not only has the food processing industry helped set the stage for everyone to have options for more rewarding work, but the efficiencies of mass production have greatly reduced the environmental impact of those mundane activities, while reducing the amount of food that’s wasted to spoilage. Were we still largely relying on small plots for our vegetables and on the tremendously inefficient processes that home canning and cooking used to entail, the state of our natural environment would be much graver than it is today. As with so much else that the industrial revolution has brought mankind, most everyone takes for granted the great efficiencies and time savings that manufacturing has brought to what we eat, even while they also take for granted the much greater varieties of foods we have available to us as a result of the industrialization of refrigeration, food packaging, and transport.

When it comes to the more immediate focus areas for further improvements, we’re still selling our food processing prowess short. The manufacturing world has for decades been pursuing the very kinds of initiatives the rest of the business world is just now finally beginning to pay attention to. Our relentless search for reductions in energy use and water use, and improvements in emissions from our operations, have been a constant for food processors since at least the 1960s. Better and more efficient lighting for our facilities, cleaner-running and more efficient farm equipment, industrial boilers, HVAC and refrigeration equipment, compressors, and process machinery: these have been improvements the food processing world has been steadily making for at least the last 40 years.

It's very easy to look at current CO2 emissions and methane and refrigerant leaks and say they’re too much. That’s true; anything above zero is too much. But it’s foolish to ignore that, absent the steady focus on ever-greater efficiencies and ever-less pollution the manufacturing world has had for the past half-century, today’s emissions would be much, much higher.

There are still enormous improvements to be made, for certain. But let’s not let anyone succeed in putting food processors on the back foot when it comes to environmentalism. Instead, let’s market ourselves as the pioneers we’ve been. On sustainability, we’ve been leading the charge here for decades, long before sustainability was even a “thing.” We’ll continue to do so, even as we assist others along the excellent path we’ve helped to create.

Jim Vinoski

Forbes Contributor

Industry Advocate & Expert


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