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Food Companies Offer Lessons in Sustainability

  • Post By: Jennifer Hogan Redmond

“Improved performance through sustainability,” the achievement lauded by ProFood World’s Sustainability Excellence in Manufacturing Awards, sounds like a lofty goal. Yet after listening to the presentations of this year’s winners at PMMI’s PACK EXPO (Sept. 27-29), what struck me wasn’t so much the success of each company’s sustainability initiative (all quite impressive and detailed here), but the common threads that led each to make changes that enhanced their operations while respecting the environment.  

The five companies that came away with this year’s awards were Smithfield Foods, B&G Foods, Conagra Brands, Liffey Meats, and Graphic Packaging International (in the Processor/Supplier Partnership Category). Whether striving to reduce air, water, greenhouse gas emissions, or packaging material waste, each company was intentional, critical, and collaborative in its efforts. Here’s a simplified version of what all processors can learn from their success:  

Proceed with intention: Realize that there’s always room for improvement. Companies that want to make things better have a can-do mindset. Set a goal and move forward. 

Critique your operation: Spend time on the plant floor. Watch operations, talk with personnel, ask them where improvements can be made and listen to their concerns and suggestions. Such efforts frequently reveal inefficiencies. Examine time spent on tasks, the amount of waste leaving the facility, current energy use and water discharge, even the packaging materials you’re using. Where can changes be made?  

Welcome collaboration: If the pandemic has taught the food industry one thing, it’s that we work better when we work together. If you want to make your operation more sustainable, you need to actively welcome input from workers and operators, involve them in goal setting, and keep them updated on the results. Some companies have created internal competitive teams to help them reach their goals and encourage teamwork, providing incentives and rewards for the most successful group. Consider also reaching outside of your facility for help. For example, a partnership with Graphic Packaging International led to more sustainable product packaging for Liffey Meats.  

And of course, collaborating with a design and engineering firm to streamline your processes or improve the layout of the plant can lead to energy savings and a more efficient overall operation. If you would like help, contact us here.