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Incorporating Sustainability Across the Supply Chain

Tue, 12/03/2013 - 12:00pm
Iuliana Nita, Global Marketing Manager, Food and Beverage, Process Systems Business Unit of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics

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 UK’s Food and Drink Federation, “The 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.” The organization’s 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 company’s 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 U.S., Walmart’s 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 Sainsbury’s has invested heavily in its 20x20 Sustainability Plan, which includes a commitment that by 2020, Sainsbury’s suppliers also will be leaders in meeting or exceeding the company’s 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. 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 country’s emissions by 30 percent by 2020. To achieve this, the country’s manufacturing businesses will need to reevaluate their production operations and practices.[2]

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. 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 di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a plasticizer used to give tubing its flexibility. Recent studies suggest DEHP may be responsible for negative environmental and human health impacts. Already on the EU’s REACH candidate list of substances of very high concern (SVHC) and California’s 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 company’s commitment to sustainability, Saint-Gobain recently launched Tygon S3™, a bio-based, non-phthalate tubing for food and beverage dispensing and transfer applications. This safe, smart and 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. Being phthalate-free means the potential human health and environmental impacts during the tubing’s use are reduced. Companies that 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.

Captain Planet said it best: The power is yours

Proving truly sustainable credentials involves in-depth testing and documentation. In many ways, sustainability is about choices — 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, a company can ensure the long-lasting impact of the sustainable practices it is implementing throughout the supply chain.

About the Author

Iuliana Nita is the Global Marketing Manager, Food and Beverage, Saint-Gobain Fluid Systems, one of the top 100 industrial companies in the world.  She has over twelve years of experience in marketing and business development, primarily in the polymer industry. As a Global Marketing Manager, she helps to connect processes, operations, and products with what matters most to the industry: safety, performance and brand assurance.

Iuliana holds a PhD – Polymer Science from Manchester Metropolitan University, an MBA – Marketing from the University of Akron and a Bachelor of Science – Chemistry from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest.

She can be contacted at Iuliana.Nita@saint-gobain.com.

About 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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