Supply Chain Sustainability: What It Really Means to ‘Go Green’
Sustainability is a hot topic in the food and beverage industry. As manufacturers seek to reduce costs and maintain customer loyalty, implementing sustainable practices can help to achieve these aims while at the same time ensuring that companies are playing a responsible role in their industry and society in general.
According to the UKâs Food and Drink Federation, âthe global food system is coming under increasing pressure from the impacts of climate change, population increase, a growing demand for limited resources and changing diets.â The organizationâs research indicates that consumers are also increasingly seeking reassurance that businesses are managing their supply chains sustainably. There is therefore a growing realization across the industry that building a secure and sustainable supply chain not only makes good business sense, but also has the potential to bring with it a number of additional benefits: demonstrating a companyâs commitment to wider stakeholder and societal interests, building a more resilient supply chain, and stimulating innovation, which results in increased productivity and meeting customer demands.
Today, food and beverage manufacturers are incorporating sustainable practices in a number of different ways. These can include a wide variety of activities and initiatives, including streamlining logistics to minimize emissions in transport, reverting to packaging materials that are made of recycled or recyclable materials, auditing the utility usage at their facilities as well as investing in energy-efficient machinery.
The global regulatory landscape is shifting to accommodate this drive towards improved sustainability, supported in many cases by the efforts of major retailers to incorporate sustainable practices into their guidelines. For example, in the US, Walmartâs long established Sustainability Scorecard rates and ranks the green efforts of the companies in its supply chain. By examining aspects of its supplier business including greenhouse gas emissions, utility and water usage, the sustainability of packaging materials and waste management, among others, the retail giant calculates an overall sustainability score for suppliers and thereby encourages further improvements across its supply chain. Similarly, leading European supermarket chain Sainsburyâs has invested heavily in its 20×20 Sustainability Plan, which includes a commitment that by 2020, Sainsburyâs suppliers will also be leaders in meeting or exceeding the companyâs social and environmental standards. This plan incorporates targets for significantly reducing carbon emissions across the supply chain.
These clear retailer guidelines, combined with a variety of region-specific government standards, are encouraging and enabling a new generation of sustainable best practice across the world. Â Â For example in May 2012, South Korea became the first country in Asia to introduce a national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading scheme (ETS). The ETS will commence in 2015, and aims to reduce the countryâs emissions by 30% by 2020. To achieve this, the countryâs manufacturing businesses will need to re-evaluate their production operations and practices.
Small parts, big impact
To be truly sustainable, an increasing number of manufacturers are looking further into the supply chain, at the suppliers of the parts and equipment used on an everyday basis in their plants. By working with partners that understand the importance of sustainability, manufacturers can further improve their credentials at every point of the supply chain â and as a well-known British retailer states, âevery little helpsâ. This is achieved as these suppliers drive their own sustainable initiatives across the production of the systems that are used in the manufacture of food and beverage products. Utilizing sustainability-enhancing equipment and components can add up to a significant impact.
Take flexible tubing, for example. Flexible tubing can come into contact with beverage and food products at several points along the supply chain, beginning with transfer applications at the processing stage and ending with applications in beverage or condiment dispensers found at many restaurants and fast-food chains. Just like CPGs, these institutions are aware of their environmental footprint and continuously strive to meet sustainability goals.
Many tubing products are comprised of a fossil-fuel based phthalate called DEHP (which stands for di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) which is a plasticizer used to give tubing its flexibility. According to the NIH Hazardous Substances Data Bank, recent studies suggest DEHP may be responsible for negative environmental and human health impacts. Already on the EUâs REACH candidate list of substances of very high concern (SVHC) and Californiaâs OEHHA Proposition 65 List of chemicals of concern, many industries, consumers and governments are putting limitations on the use of this chemical in certain applications.
As part of the companyâs commitment to sustainability, Saint-Gobain recently launched Tygon S3, a bio-based, non-phthalate tubing for food and beverage dispensing and transfer applications. This sustainable solution provides high level performance in delivering clarity, product consistency and taste-odor free properties associated with the Tygon brand of tubing, but with a forward-looking formulation to addresses the needs of evolving regulatory requirements.Â Being phthalate-free means the potential human health and environmental impacts during the tubingâs use are reduced.Â Companies who use Tygon S3 will have reduced exposure to risk or liability for their business and brands with the anticipated regulations on products containing phthalates like DEHP in food or beverage dispensing, processing, and transfer applications.
Incorporating sustainability: a cradle-to-grave approach
We commissioned a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to demonstrate the environmental impacts of the tubing throughout the life of the product. The ISO-14040 and ISO-14044-compliant results are based on a cradle-to-grave study (meaning the raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, use phase and end of life were assessed) of Tygon S3 B-44-3, a lightweight, flexible tubing offering high-level clarity for beverage transfer applications. These results are detailed and explained below using data derived from the LCA carried out.
The impacts for Tygon S3 B-44-3 are shown in Figure 1. The functional unit used to assess Tygon S3 B-44-3 is a 50 ft length with an inner diameter of 0.25â and an outer diameter of 0.375â. The carbon footprint to produce 50 feet of tubing is only 2.63 kg CO2-eq and the embodied energy of the product is only 64.09 MJ. Energy is required to extract, process and ship raw materials to the plant, manufacture tubing and ship the final product to the customer. Any use of fossil fuel based energy also involves the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The majority of the energy used to create tubing is consumed in creating the raw materials, and those materials are also responsible for most of the carbon emissions.Â Â Figures 2 and 3 demonstrate that that Tygon S3 B-44-3 has the lowest cumulative energy demand (all the energy needed to convert a material into its final product, including transportation, use and end-of-life) and also the lowest carbon footprint among the various types of tubing analyzed.
Captain Planet said it best: The power is yours
As the above example illustrates, proving truly sustainable credentials involves in-depth testing and documentation. In many ways, sustainability is about choices â giving manufacturers and the consumers they serve the choice to select a more sustainable and environmentally friendly solution or product. By committing to being transparent about its sustainable initiatives and providing documentation of these initiatives, ideally from an independent reviewer, companies can build trust in their supply chains and offer this choice to their target markets. Moreover, by working in partnership with suppliers who are implementing the same best practices, including using tools such as LCA to evaluate solutions and continuing to develop new, innovative products in the response to industry and consumer demand, a company can ensure the long-lasting impact of the sustainable practices it is implementing throughout the supply chain.
Iuliana Nita is global marketing manager of Food and Beverage for the Process Systems Business Unit of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics (SGPPL) is a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain Corporation, one of the top 100 industrial companies in the world and a leading producer of construction products, flat glass, high-performance materials and packaging. The Process Systems division of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics produces critical connections through a broad range of customized material solutions and capabilities to help customers achieve safety, performance and brand assurance in the aerospace, chemical and food & beverage industries. For more information, visit http://www.plastics.saint-gobain.com/.
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