On the first season of “Sesame Street” in 1970, the soon-to-be cultural icon Kermit the Frog sang the immortal line, “It’s not easy being green.” Kermit was of course referring to the difficulties of being a small green creature. But the difficulties involved in being green are quite familiar to most industries, including food manufacturing.
Several years before Kermit sang his famous lines, the emergence of the modern environmental movement began with the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” The book, published in 1962, raised widespread concern over the detrimental effects of pesticides and environmental pollution. It is widely credited with spearheading the banning of the pesticide DDT in the United States in 1972.
Over the ensuing four decades, environmental concerns have gone from the fringe to the mainstream, something clearly demonstrated when industry giants like Wal-Mart throw their weight behind sustainability, which seeks to reduce the waste of raw materials and minimize refuse. Companies have realized that, in addition to improving the planet, sustainable practices can also improve their bottom lines.
In this issue, we feature three stories that focus on various aspects of sustainability. Our cover story (see p. 18) looks at what companies are doing nationwide to adopt sustainable practices and make these strategies work for them.
“Consumers play an important role as a driver of this, but in talking with other food and beverage manufacturers, they see it as a good business model that can turn in better numbers for their shareholders,” Cheri Chastain, sustainability coordinator at Sierra Nevada Brewing, told Food Quality magazine. “Money is the biggest driver.”
Although money is a big factor, the influence of consumers should not be underestimated, said Peter Capozucca, a principal with Deloitte Consulting. “It is unlike any business issue consumer businesses have encountered in the past,” he said. “The industry’s large environmental footprint and unique dependencies on agricultural inputs, water, and packaging make sustainability a critical strategic issue that consumer packaged goods companies must address proactively.”
A second article (see “Reduce Water Usage, Eliminate Excess Waste,” p. 49) explores the use of closed-loop process water cooling, a newer alternative to the more traditional open-loop water cooling that can reduce water use by up to 98%.
This is key, because as the article notes, “the food and beverage processing industry is known as the largest industrial user of water, consuming up to 20,000 gallons of water per ton of product, according to the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance.” Considering that there are over 17,000 food and beverage processors in the United States alone, a vast amount of water could be saved.