Climate Change and Food Production: What Do You Need to Know?
It’s no secret that climate change is slowly having an impact on food production and distribution.
Even if we look at the past few years, natural disasters like the California forest fires and record-breaking hurricane seasons can significantly impact food distribution and growers. Here’s how food production and manufacturing can take steps to mitigate their effects on climate change and find ways to keep moving forward.
Climate change and food production have a cause-and-effect relationship. Changing climate conditions and weather patterns around the planet impact food distribution, access, and quality. Certain agricultural and manufacturing processes can, in turn, impact the climate. For food manufacturers, these factors can greatly affect your business.
Global hunger is rising, with an estimated 821 million people living in hunger, food insecurity, and scarcity. Additionally, global food production ebbs and flows based on certain factors, including environmental. Social factors like politics, trade, and infrastructure also have a massive impact on how food makes it from your production plant onto the plates of consumers. Unfortunately, those factors are often out of the control of food manufacturers and distributors.
What you can control is the impact that your food production has on the climate. Minimizing our adverse effects on the environment will go a long way toward making a difference. It’s about small steps that add up to significant change.
Additionally, raising your awareness of climate change and food production can positively impact your target consumers. According to a Nielson study, 66% of consumers report they’re willing to pay more to companies that prioritize social and environmental causes. People want to feel optimistic about where their food and drinks come from. Show that your company is aware of consumers’ concerns, and they’ll be more likely to support you.
You’ll also avoid the negative press and attention that can come with missteps. If you know that some of your practices aren’t quite up to snuff, then there’s no time like the present to start to explore ways you can shore up climate-friendly practices at your facility.
Finally, by taking steps to plan and explore the impact of climate change on food production, you’ll be ready for anything Mother Nature throws your way. While you might not be able to stop the next global disaster on your own, you can prepare for emergencies and develop contingency plans to ensure that consumers who rely on your product can get what they need.
1. Assess the Impact of Your Business
The first step to understanding the relationship between climate change and food production is to take a hard look at your business. What is the impact of your business on the neighborhood? The community? The larger region?
For example, beverage distributors may want to examine their effect on the water supply, procedure for wastewater, and the impact of bottling operations. The good news is that these areas can also increase your bottom line. You may discover that a few updates to your production equipment could result in lower breakage and reduce product loss.
Whatever you discover in your assessment—don’t feel you need to make sweeping changes all at once. The past few years have been challenging for food production as a whole. Making a few small changes now will go a long way to ensuring your health and longevity down the road. See what you can do today and make some plans for ways you can reduce your environmental impact in the future.
2. Look for Ways to Reduce Your Footprint
Receiving and distribution is often a significant portion of any food manufacturing and production facility. So what is the real impact of your receiving and distribution on the planet? You’ve probably heard of something called a “carbon footprint.” Even smaller businesses can have giant carbon footprints if they ship around the country.
Big businesses have already begun to offset their footprint both monetarily and through employing better practices. Take, for example, Walmart’s commitment to clean fleets. The retail giant committed to green their trucking with zero emissions by 2040. A large company taking this action has a significant environmental impact, but smaller companies can follow suit.
Another option is to purchase carbon offsets. If your business has a large footprint, carbon offsetting can help you even the score by purchasing certificates for each ton of carbon your business releases. These certificates are used to fund green projects and “offset” your carbon-emitting practices. While this may not be an ideal solution for your facility right now, it’s worth exploring as a target down the road.
3. Make a Difference with Packaging
As you examine your facility’s impact on the climate, a critical area of focus is the packaging. Is your packaging recyclable, and is there a clear, convenient way for consumers to do so? Sometimes a small tweak to your packaging (such as making consumers can recycle plastic pieces together) can make a big difference.
When we look at packaging in food manufacturing, we’re looking at one of the most significant trash sources. Even with robust recycling programs, food and beverage packaging are 63% of municipal waste. But there’s still hope!
Look at compostable and eco-friendly packaging options. Paper and cardboard, bamboo, hemp, and other materials can have similar properties to plastic and less-eco-friendly materials. The bottled water industry started to make the switch to aluminum cans and even boxed water options. While many distributors opt for plastic packaging, these alternative options appeal to consumers and are more easily recycled.
4. Reduce Waste at Your Facility
After looking at the post-consumer waste associated with your product, you should also look at the waste that happens right at your facility. For example, sometimes relying on older equipment and putting off repairs and maintenance until “down the road” can end up a pennywise and pound-foolish strategy, resulting in excess waste.
Every update costs money, of course, and if your production line seems to be running smoothly, why rock the boat, right? Unfortunately, every item in your facility will wear out in time. It’s crucial to weigh the cost-benefit ratio of each change. If you’re putting off upgrades, waiting for a windfall, it may be costing you more.
There are also alternative options to help you update equipment and reduce wasted product and time during production. Look into leasing and rentals for your equipment. Consider the different options in product packaging and how it could impact the needs of your line. For example, could a change to a cardboard bottle holder lower your need for a wide production line? Could the change also decrease your storage requirements and increase your capacity?
5. Diversify Your Suppliers
One of the lessons from the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic was the importance of diversifying your suppliers. During the pandemic, many food producers discovered shortages and supply chain gaps in everything from packaging to line equipment to PPE for employees. While every food producer doesn’t have ample storage space to house an “extra” inventory of supplies, it can help to have a backup plan if you need to act quickly.
Those manufacturers who were able to make do, contact other suppliers or find innovative solutions (such as reducing product packaging) were often able to keep up with demand. Even better was that some of these changes could stay in place in the future—making products and packaging less wasteful.
Local suppliers stepped up, and some food producers found new and innovative methods for sourcing their ingredients. Not only were these solutions right for the situation, but many were also good for the environmental impact on the plant.
6. Plan for Emergencies
Emergencies can happen at any moment. Wildfire, natural disasters, health crises, weather hazards, and other unexpected catastrophes are part of life. But when it results in downtime for your production line, it can also be catastrophic for your business. Many disasters are linked to climate change in one way or another (so chances are, they will only become more frequent).
You must have an emergency response plan for evacuation and continuation of your production, should the worst occur. Revisit your product recall plan and ensure you have a contingency in place as needed.
If you haven’t updated your plan recently, it’s a good idea to revisit your protocol. Do you have a plan in place for a prolonged power outage? An evacuation? New products, new equipment, and new employees warrant a reexamination of your practices and procedures.
7. Stay Flexible
Like any form of change, climate change is constant. If manufacturers want to minimize their impact on the planet and climate change’s impact on their business, they will need to stay flexible and innovative. As manufacturing moves toward new materials and new production solutions, plant owners will need to adapt and grow.
The good news is that many environmentally friendly innovations are also less expensive and less wasteful. You may find that a new, locally sourced ingredient costs less to procure and cuts back on your receiving costs. Or you may discover that your product can ship with minimal packaging, saving you on freight.
Whether we like it or not, the climate is changing and will continue to change, and the global supply chain is part of that. The way food is produced, distributed, and enjoyed will continue to shift as we move forward. But manufacturers are unparalleled innovators. If you stay at the forefront of the latest news and research, you’ll continue to thrive while supplying food across the planet to those who need it the most.