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Sustainability as a growth enabler

27 August 2021

Nicki Hunt discusses how the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) is working to help highlight the increasing importance of more sustainable food production. 

There has been a seismic shift on sustainability. No longer seen as just a reputational priority for the Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) team, food and drink leaders are increasingly focusing on the interplay between business goals, sustainability strategy and automation and digitalisation solutions. 

Many FDF members have been putting sustainability at the heart of their business for years. The need to feed more people with less impact on the planet is not a new challenge, but it is only recently that links are being more clearly drawn with other priority areas such as diet and health and technology solutions.

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to consumers and customers (retailers/food service) but also to investors who now view sustainability as a measure of the efficiency and productivity of the business.

However, there is still much to do to help businesses realise the potential for sustainability influencing the bottom line through increased efficiency and productivity. Research by FDF affiliate member, Siemens, in its ‘Collaborating to create the future factory for food and beverage manufacturers’ found that of the strategic priorities mentioned by manufacturers, quality (51%) and cost (44%) far outweighed sustainability (19%) despite the three being intrinsically linked.

Recently the FDF has set up a Technology Forum comprising its manufacturing members together with affiliate members in the automation and digitalisation space. The forum brings together manufacturers with questions and technology providers with answers and a key work strand will be the development of sustainable solutions. That the group sits within our industrial growth portfolio demonstrates how strongly sustainability is viewed as a productivity and growth enabler. 

Company sustainability strategies needs to be owned at board-level and all encompassing, reflecting the key strands of customers demand, reputation, regulation, cost and quality, productivity improvement, scarcity of natural resources and the impact on commodities of climate change. 

The FDF’s Ambition 2025, which aims to create a more sustainable food system, places stretching targets on the sector for leaders to meet.

Over the coming decade three sustainability developments will directly challenge the bottom line and automation and digitalisation providers need to stand ready to provide the solutions their clients need. 

Net zero
It’s the phrase of the moment but much of our sector has been working steadily towards this for years as part of Ambition 2025.  Manufacturing and packaging combined account for 10% of carbon emissions on the journey from farm to ultimate disposal of packaging by the consumer. Earlier this year the FDF announced on behalf of the sector an ambitious target of Net Zero emissions by 2040. As part of this, we will be publishing our Net Zero handbook to coincide with COP 26 in November 2021. This will aid producers on their Net Zero journey, focusing on ingredients, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and storage and customers and consumers. Data and monitoring systems will be key to manufacturers benchmarking and developing Net Zero strategies looking not just at new energy solutions but optimum efficiency for all parts of the manufacturing process and equipment.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) will see brand owners and retailers (for own label) responsible for the full net cost of recovery and recycling of household and business waste and littering – both bin and illegal littering. The scheme will begin from 2023 with the appointment of an administration body and manufacturers will be charged based on the recyclability of their products. 

This new system will cost industry and estimated £2.7bn per year and so the pressure is on to develop new packaging technologies in order to create a more effective circular economy and lessen the environmental and financial burden. 

The Plastics Tax
Manufacturers have also been working to reduce the use of single use plastics. The taxation of single use plastics from April 2022 undoubtedly creates challenges around packaging product and operational processes. Producers will be looking to the automation and digitalisation sector for solutions. 

Industry faces an ongoing challenge to do more but with less impact on the environment. This demands optimum efficiency of production processes, less energy and water usage and a reduced impact on scarce natural resources. There has never been a greater need for the solutions that the automation and digitalisation sector can provide and never has collaboration been more important. 

For more information about Ambition 2025 go to

Nicki Hunt is membership, commercial and sustainability director at the Food and Drink Federation. 

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