The most important aspect to remember is to take a proactive approach to sustainability.
In today’s world, a company’s success is increasingly defined by its ability to meet the “triple bottom line”— concurrently serving the needs of people, planet, and profit. This is no small task, especially for food service providers that must ensure food safety and quality, while at the same time reducing the environmental impacts and waste associated with food and its packaging.
A formal sustainability strategy can help companies prioritize competing interests and empower workers to drive for environmental excellence. But perhaps more importantly, a good strategy can nourish innovation and create supplier-customer partnerships to meet ambitious sustainability goals. With these benefits, it’s no surprise that more than 60 percent of companies today have instituted formal sustainability strategies.
If you’re starting from ground zero, a good first step is to agree to create ambitious but attainable goals with a clear roadmap for how to achieve them. As a food packaging supplier with a deep-rooted commitment to sustainability that has spanned the company’s 40-year existence, Sabert has put a lot of thought into developing and executing a sustainability strategy of our own.
Here are our 10 tips for launching a sustainability strategy that will resonate with customers and make a measurable impact on our planet’s future:
Get buy-in from leadership: Every successful sustainability strategy must have complete support from the leadership team. The success of a sustainability strategy requires a shift in mindset and culture that must be embraced and reinforced from the top. With the backing of the CEO and the entire executive team, companies can more effectively educate and motivate employees to support this shared mission.
Address the full product lifecycle: Industries across the board are moving to a more circular model that takes the full product lifecycle into account. When creating products, try to think beyond the amount of energy it requires to produce them. Consider ways to extend the product’s use phase as well as ways to reduce its environmental impact once it’s been disposed. By addressing sustainability of products at all stages, we avoid pushing environmental burdens to stages that aren’t in our direct control.
Responsibly source food packaging: As plastic packaging remains critical to the food supply chain food providers must ensure they’re working with packaging providers that are committed to responsible product manufacturing, raw material sourcing, and end-of-life management. Food service companies should talk to their suppliers and ask questions about the sustainability of their products to ensure they’re working with an environmentally conscious provider.
Implement waste reduction strategies: Reducing food and packaging waste has multiple environmental benefits. Excess landfill waste is avoided, leading to a reduced demand for raw materials. Both of these benefits work to reduce the carbon footprint of the entire food system. Food service providers can do their part by implementing waste reduction strategies such as aligning food production with demand. This can limit waste due to excess food supply. By selecting food packaging that is designed specifically for the intended use, food service providers can avoid food waste due to spills and other packaging mishaps.
Leverage renewable energy sources: Renewable energy sources are more accessible than ever before and more businesses are turning to solar, geothermal, wind, and hydropower energy sources for power. With many businesses targeting 100% renewable energy use within the next decade, food service providers should also set goals to phase out legacy fuel sources in favor of cleaner energy.
Incorporate social and governance factors: Oftentimes, the “Social” and “Governance” components of ESG are forgotten or minimized in sustainability plans. Food service providers should consider how they treat their employees, partners, suppliers and their communities when developing a sustainability strategy.
Embed sustainability into every business function: Sustainability cannot be viewed in its own silo, and instead must be integrated into all company operations. Every department from sales and marketing to manufacturing and distribution have something to contribute to the sustainability of the overall organization. No effort is too small, and getting all departments working in the same direction will vastly increase a sustainability strategy’s cumulative impact.
Engage the surrounding community: The most sustainable organizations think beyond what they can do within the four walls of their business and extend their sustainability efforts into the communities around them. Many of the big changes that will be required for a successful transition to a more sustainable future cannot be done by one company or one industry. Companies are in a unique position to offer first-hand accounts of what is needed to support their sustainability journey. Industry groups, environmental organizations and policymakers are eager to engage with passionate companies committed to sustainability—join in the conversation!
Design for circularity: Recycling efforts are a critical component of a more sustainable future, but we will achieve maximal impact when we embrace a fully circular economy. For food service providers, this means implementing composting strategies for food waste as well as utilizing food containers designed according to circular principles—smart sourcing and a responsible end-of-life.
Consider hiring a sustainability director: While hiring a sustainability leader is not necessary, doing so can go a long way in facilitating the company’s sustainability goals. These individuals can focus on taking a holistic perspective and applying sustainable practices across every business function. This can ensure the sustainability philosophy is embedded across the organization and greatly improves the company’s long-term positive impact.
Take a proactive approach
Implementing the above 10 steps may seem like an overwhelming task. But the most important aspect to remember is to take a proactive approach to sustainability. Overanalyzing how to make the most impact can lead to inaction. Instead, it’s best to get started by making small changes now. In many cases, these small steps can spread throughout the organization and serve as the building blocks for a strong sustainability foundation. As one of the largest essential industries globally, our efforts can make a substantial impact. Start today and help build a more sustainable tomorrow.
Rebecca Locker, PhD, is Sustainability Director at Sabert Corporation. In this role she is responsible for leading Earthtelligent, Sabert’s comprehensive approach to sustainability seeking to drive better environmental outcomes through innovative business thinking. Locker has more than 13 years of experience in strategy and navigating innovation at the intersection of material design and sustainability. She boasts expertise in a wide range of industries including polymers, petrochemicals, biotechnology and bio-based materials. Prior to joining Sabert, spent time at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co., and most recently served as sustainability lead at Modern Meadow Inc., where she performed a variety of environmental assessments for different consumer goods categories.