Food and Beverage Industry News speaks with Beca about the drivers for change, getting started and some of the solutions helping industry transform sustainable strategic objectives into a roadmap to reality.
Achieving decarbonisation will require a long-term strategy and step-by-step approach for the food and beverage industry, according to experts from engineering and advisory consultancy firm Beca.
Implementing change and reform to improve organisational sustainability practices doesn’t need to be difficult or overwhelming, with cross-sector experience and collaboration key to finding short-term wins and developing a long-term plan.
Sarah Bacon, an associate industrial sustainability consultant at Beca, said food and beverage manufacturers had the technical know-how with good access to consultants and suppliers who have the depth of experience to support in their decarbonisation journey.
According to Bacon, it is hard to attribute one thing as the driver behind the push towards decarbonisation and sustainability goals, which are being spoken about frequently at the executive level.
“One of them is definitely around consumers and their desire for more transparency around how products are being produced across the full supply chain and the market driving that choice,” said Bacon.
“I think investors and shareholders also want more information on how companies are looking to manage their risks when it comes to climate change. This may influence which companies they invest in.
“The last aspect is really around employers. Companies that are focused on sustainability and a social license to operate, are more likely to attract and retain great people and their employees will feel empowered and feel like they can make a difference at work.”
Another area highlighted by James Rooney, principal consultant at Beca, was the role being played by multi-national corporations that are bringing their European and American policies into Australia, which is having an influence on the push to sustainability.
Managing Climate Risk
James said international drivers demanding accurate climate impact reporting are also driving a need for change in the industry.
In the past some companies have placed identifying and reporting on climate risk in the challenging or ‘too hard basket’, given the uncertainty inherent in climate change. This was one of the reasons the Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework was introduced in countries like New Zealand.
“The TCFD reporting is becoming front of mind for a number of clients, particularly in New Zealand where it has been mandated for publicly listed companies, and we are already starting to see this trend emerging in Australia,” said Rooney.
“It also helps a company to incorporate those climate-related risks and opportunities into their strategic planning and makes a company more resilient in adapting to the impacts of climate change.”
One of our TCFD experts at Beca says “Getting started now also empowers your business to tell its own story on how it is managing its risks and responding to climate change, rather than reacting to regulatory requirements.”
Developing your roadmap
There are many factors to consider when understanding and developing a company’s response to becoming more sustainable. Sarah Bacon said a good starting point for companies looking to focus on decarbonising their operations is to develop an organisational carbon footprint. This allows a company to baseline their carbon emissions, and then measure and track progress when initiatives or changes are introduced.
“We’ve mapped the carbon footprint for a number of organisations, in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and ISO standards, to make sure that it’s consistent with an international approach,” said Bacon.
“This enables a company to annually report and track progress in their carbon footprint, which is really important in providing transparency from an external perspective for shareholders and customers, but also from an internal perspective to employees.
“Beca is in a unique position where we have expertise in understanding how to measure an organisational carbon footprint, combined with our in-depth technical knowledge on an organisations operations and processes,” said Bacon.
A company may also want to set a science-based target to reduce a company’s GHG emissions in line with scenarios limiting temperature rise to below two degrees. If a company has set an emissions reduction target, Beca can support them in creating a practical roadmap, broken down into a step-by-step plan of how to achieve that target.
A detailed understanding about a company’s own energy supply and demand’s and an overall energy balance is a critical step before being able to develop a realistic decarbonisation roadmap. This is becoming increasingly important especially when many companies have publicly committed to carbon reduction goals, some even by 2030.
“We’ve supported a number of F&B clients in creating decarbonisation roadmaps across beverages, meat, and the seafood sectors. We workshop potential emissions reduction opportunities with the client, then analyse the carbon and cost impacts of these projects. It’s important to start with small steps in energy optimisation, then process technology change especially when an asset is at end of life, then fuel switching to a renewable source once demand has been reduced. These projects are sequenced to align with the capital works programme for the company,” said Bacon.
“While it’s great to get there tomorrow, I think it is more realistic from a capital investment point of view that you have a gradual approach to getting there.”
With a clear understanding of an organisations carbon footprint, and a road map for achieving carbon reduction goals, it becomes much easier to implement the small projects that start an organisation on their journey to decarbonise their operations.
Choose the small wins first
“The first steps will always be to find where it makes sense to optimising your assets from a sustainability, efficiency, and cost perspective,” said Rooney.
Food and beverage manufacturers have been known to be good at doing exactly that because it leads to a reduction in running costs. Most existing sites already have the capability to reduce energy efficiency and increase optimisation, but firstly the existing assets’ capabilities must be assessed.
Recently Beca has used advanced analytics to help its clients reach better optimisation within existing sites. One example was an Australian manufacturer who contracted Beca to help reduce the energy consumption in the short and medium term.
“We coupled that with experience and data analytics and exploration which helped us identify a number of potential savings in the operation of their current plant,” said Bacon.
Beca assessed the site and found the compressor system was running inefficiently and immediately identified it as a problem area.
“We were able to use simulations and data processing expertise to explore that inefficiency in more depth,” said Rooney.
“We were then able to optimise the way they run their compressor system and the client was able to make some adjustments to set points which ultimately saved them just under $400,000 over a year.”
Moving to a circular economy
Carbon energy solutions are not the only contributors to becoming more sustainable, waste and water are also important to consider.
“The industrial sector is already looking at improving its production processes to reduce, for example, the amount of waste going into landfill, driven by recent legislation in Australia banning the export of recyclable materials. Now companies are looking at how they can take the waste previously exported and convert this into a material that can be used in another way,” said Bacon.
With modern technologies and innovations now available to convert recyclables to reusable materials, this will continue to grow in popularity within the sector as companies continue to push towards their 2030 goals, and consumers continue to make their choices based on how sustainable an organisation is being.
Water and the big picture
Another key area where food and beverage manufacturers need to identify is the issue around sustainable water usage and wastewater management due to Australia’s dry climate, despite the increased rain over the last 12 to 18 months.
“I think most are aware the additional rainfall recently will only be a brief hiatus, which is exactly the time organisations should be implementing forward planned solutions. We are seeing many of our clients targeting quite significant improvements in water efficiency and we are seeing advanced treatment technologies being used,” said Rooney.
“Lots can be gained from looking at the source and recognising source separation and treatment opportunities. Once these opportunities have been exhausted, reverse osmosis can be considered to treat wastewater for re-use. When you look at reverse osmosis, and similar technologies, they are often quite high energy users, so I think it’s very important when evaluating water solutions, you look at the overall sustainability picture and tie it all together to make sure it’s the best way to go,” said Rooney.
There are so many elements a client needs to consider when navigating the increasing pressures and legislation around sustainability, particularly considering remaining competitive and profitable, while meeting demands from consumers, employees and shareholders.
“Organisations aren’t on their own. We have expertise across a broad range of services and we can help clients break down their goals into clear, achievable steps to help them along their journey together,” said Bacon.
Beca considers sustainability in all that they do and are passionate about continuing to help their clients reach decarbonisation and sustainability goals as the industry moves towards more environmentally friendly methods of production. We too have measured our own carbon footprint and set reduction targets.