Why Sustainability Matters in a Time of Crisis – Part 1
From sustainable packaging to waste reduction, sustainability remains top of mind for manufacturers and consumers alike. Find out in Part 1 of a two-part series as why water management matters.
The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to disrupt the nation’s global food production. Raw materials imported from other countries continue to experience delays. State lockdowns continue to break transportation links. And, consumers continue to stockpile on essential goods, further upending the global supply chain system.
However, despite these ebbs and flows, sustainability remains top of mind for manufacturers and consumers alike.
For example, 85% of survey respondents said they have been thinking about sustainability more than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 56% said they want the government and brands themselves to “prioritize sustainability even while facing other issues.” And, more than one-third (37%) of Americans are willing to pay a little more for sustainable products, even during an economic downturn.
“I think sustainability becomes even more critical during these times, as companies seek ways to reduce their operating costs through energy and water efficiency,” says Jason Cocek, sustainability specialist of C1S Inc. “Beyond efficiency, indoor air quality and occupant health have always been a part of sustainability programs like LEED, and the pandemic really brings those issues to the forefront. LEED has even added some pandemic-specific credits to its library that deal with workplace re-entry and disinfecting spaces.”
These new credits outline sustainable best practices related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace re-occupancy, HVAC and plumbing operations and pandemic preparedness and response.
That’s because even in a time of crisis—whether it be a global pandemic, natural disaster or civil unrest—sustainability matters.
From 2015-2019, sustainability-marketed products contributed 54.7% of overall CPG market growth while representing 16.1% dollar share of the category in 2019.
The global food packaging market is expected to reach $528.90 billion by 2027.
Americans used less energy in 2019 than in 2018.
And, for the second year in a row, the largest increases in energy supply came from natural gas, wind and solar energy, with jumps of 4%, 10% and 8%, respectively.
But, what does this mean for the future of food production, and what sustainable efforts should companies take today in order to improve sustainability for tomorrow?
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that food production consumes 70% of the world’s fresh water resources, mainly due to growing crops and raising animals. The National Academics of Sciences Engineering Medicine says 70% of water usage results from agriculture, 20% as a result of industry and 10% from domestic uses. But, water is also a major ingredient in processed food. Yet, a Ceres report details how most food companies are unprepared to deal with water risks.
That’s why it is important companies address their projected water usage when designing a new or building out an existing manufacturing plant.
“One thing is to try to anticipate your major energy and water uses and have a plan for how you might need to sub-meter specific systems,” says Cocek. “It’s always easier to implement this kind of thing during the design of a building rather than afterward. You can then track your buildings’ performance more easily over time and identify systems that aren’t performing as originally intended. You’ll want to do the same with building waste and anticipate what the major waste streams will be and how these will be tracked.”
Food processors should also develop a water management plan in order to understand how to improve and reduce waste. The EPA recommends that a water management plan incorporate everything from smart landscaping and controlling reverse osmosis to eliminating single pass cooling and optimizing cooling towers.
“Having a sustainability champion on board to vet things like this will be invaluable,” adds Cocek.
Sustainability after COVID-19 looks more like a recovery effort than an innovation initiative. But, with the right water management measurements in place, companies can continue operating sustainably, even amid a pandemic.