Sustainability in the Produce Industrybianca
In the face of climate change, the depletion of natural resources, and changing consumer attitudes, sustainability is more essential than ever, especially in the produce industry.
Our world is warming, and it’s warming fast. Between 2013 and 2021, every year ranked among the ten warmest years. In 2021, the global average surface temperature was 1.51°F above the 20th-century average, making it the sixth warmest year on record. At the same time, we’re quickly depleting our natural resources, so it’s clear that sustainability is more important than ever.
The good news is that over one-third of consumers agree and are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. This increase in demand for increased environmentally friendly practices affects every industry, including the produce industry, so if you aren’t already incorporating sustainable best practices into your business, it’s time to start.
The Current State of the Produce Industry
The produce industry is a global source of healthy food with limited environmental impact, but it’s currently in a period of transition. After all, consumer preferences have changed over the last few years. Today, people are more environmentally conscious, and the produce industry has been hurrying to become more sustainable and meet consumers’ expectations.
Much like the average retailer who invests 11.4% of their revenue into sustainable deliveries, the average produce supplier, grocery store, and restaurant invests time, money, and effort into revamping their internal practices to align more closely with consumers’ values.
However, many in the produce industry have decided to go beyond simply avoiding harm; they’re working hard to do good to help the environment and assuage concerns about environmental risk factors, such as water quality and scarcity, land degradation, and disease.
While the pandemic certainly affected the produce, food, and beverage industries, it didn’t devastate sales. As a result, 55% of business leaders allocated more resources towards sustainability between January and November 2020.
For some, this has meant introducing digital systems to make business more efficient and gain deeper insights into operations. For others, it has meant developing environmentally friendly packaging.
Challenges the Produce Industry Is Facing
Becoming more sustainable not only reduces the long-term risk of things like water crises, a loss of biodiversity, and extreme weather events (all of which profoundly affect the produce industry), but it also boosts companies’ reputations by positioning them as trusted, conscientious partners. However, there are still a few challenges the produce industry is facing when it comes to sustainability.
For instance, water-related issues are a significant issue. Since everything we eat requires water, agriculture was responsible for more than 70% of freshwater usage in 2017 in most parts of the world. Unfortunately, many growers don’t use water very efficiently. Plus, improper crop irrigation can affect soil, plants, animals, and erosion or result in wasted water.
Additionally, billions of people are already experiencing clean water scarcity, which will likely worsen in the coming years. Those in the produce industry will need to face increased restrictions and expenses regarding water use and may need to source fruits and vegetables from different regions.
When it comes to energy, things aren’t much better. According to an NDC Synthesis Report, we are not on track to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise by 2°C by 2050 — and the produce industry is partially to blame. After all, 17% of fossil fuels in the U.S. are consumed by food.
Another major issue in the produce industry is the high levels of food waste. Around one-third of global food production is lost or wasted, and that number is between 40% and 50% for perishable foods, such as fruits and vegetables. So, not only is the food itself being wasted, but the resources consumed to produce the food and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions are also a waste.
Why are water, energy, and food waste still massive problems for the produce industry if we know that incorporating sustainable best practices into a business can mitigate future risks, boost company reputation, and help the environment?
For one, many companies view sustainability as a burden. Instilling sustainable practices across all levels of a company takes time and money. While customers are willing to pay more for organic and fair-trade products, some companies still don’t consider it worth the effort. Plus, some sustainable practices will cost more, but companies won’t make any additional money.
Additionally, leaders constantly have their attention pulled towards weather issues, pest outbreaks, labor shortages, and delays, leaving less time to focus on sustainable practices.
How to Increase Sustainability in the Produce Industry
Combating global warming and the depletion of natural resources can seem intimidating, but plenty of changes can be instituted right now to make a big difference. For example:
- Growers can switch to renewable energy resources: The agriculture industry uses a lot of fossil fuels yearly to do everything from power farming equipment to process foods, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Many in the produce industry have turned to solar power, biomass from plants, and wind energy, but it’s also possible to use geothermal energy and flowing water as energy sources.
- Suppliers can use more sustainable packaging: Packaging plays a huge role in which products consumers pick, so switching to more eco-friendly packaging can pay off, despite the fact it’s 25% more expensive to create sustainable packaging than traditional packaging. After all, 67% of consumers think it’s important that their products have recyclable packaging, and 83% of consumers younger than 44 are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.
- Growers, suppliers, and restaurants can invest in better consumer needs forecasting: Unfortunately, there is a lot of waste in the food industry. The good news is that you can gain more visibility into your consumers’ current and future needs by adopting new digital solutions that pay attention to your stock and sales records. You’ll gain insight into demand fluctuations and know how much stock to order, which can help reduce the amount of excess food and waste.
- Suppliers, retail stores, and restaurants can invest in proper storage: 40% of all food produced in the U.S. ends up as waste — and improper storage is partially to blame. While U.S. grocery retailers are responsible for 43 billion pounds of food waste each year, restaurants also have their own share of food waste.
- Wholesalers can use local sources: When it comes to sustainability, wholesalers should look for food locally whenever possible to shorten the supply chain and reduce carbon emissions.
- Companies can use greener shipping strategies: Even something as simple as encouraging drivers to avoid running their engines while idling can help reduce a company’s fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. To take things a step further, consider offering your drivers Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving (SAFED) driver instruction or working with carriers who use these practices.
Becoming More Sustainable Is Worth the Effort
43% of global consumers want to buy more from businesses that benefit society, even if they have to pay more, so adopting sustainable practices will help improve the world and your business. While the produce and food industries have become increasingly sustainable, there’s still a long way to go. However, it’s not hopeless. There are plenty of concrete actions you can take now to help create a more sustainable future.