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EMS offers food processors benefits and challenges

By Guy Montague-Jones , 03-Aug-2010

Environmental management systems (EMS) can be a good tool for food processors looking to achieve the twin goals of improved productivity and corporate responsibility.

In the final part of our series on plant efficiency, FoodProductionDaily.com looks at what EMS can bring to food companies and what options and guidance is available.

Improved resource efficiency and productivity tops the list of benefits laid out in a toolkit on the subject drawn up recently by the Environment Agency in the UK.

The government agency said EMS can bring numerous other business benefits such as reduced risks and loss, increased chance of funding, and improved legal or regulatory compliance.

In an interview with FoodProductionDaily.com, David Bellamy, environment policy manager, at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said retailers are now demanding that their suppliers provide better environmental reporting. Implementing an EMS can therefore be a good way for processors to secure business opportunities.

First steps

When it comes to deciding how to go about environmental management it is recommended to start with an operational focus. Bellamy said it is best to put one's own house in order before tackling environmental impacts across the supply chain.

He said a good place to start for food companies that are getting started with environmental management is the ‘Food & Drink Manufacturing – Environmental Management Toolkit’. This guidance document, mentioned earlier in relation to business benefits, was complied by the Environment Agency with support from leading UK food and drink trade associations.

It sets out how best to identify and manage impacts on the environment including air emissions, land contamination, noise and odour pollution, energy usage, waste disposal and water discharges.

Bellamy said when choosing a methodology to measure these impacts it is best to resort to recognised standards. Sadly at present there is no single set of internationally recognised standards for food and drink companies that takes care of different impact areas.

Harmonisation issue

But work is underway to develop uniform methods at a European level. The European Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Round Table (RT) is currently developing harmonised approaches to assessment of the environmental impact of food and drink products and subsequent communication thereof. This work is due to be finished towards the end of next year.

Currently the difficulty for food processors is that there is no one set of methods that would enable consumers to make accurate comparisons between products. There is also no standardised approach to reporting environmental information. This can be done on labels and through company documents or websites and the information can be broken down in different ways by product, by business unit or by company.

The Round Table should help move the industry towards a more unified approach that will enable environmental reporting to be as easy to compare as financial accounts.

In the meantime, food processors can start with a guidance document like the one from the Environment Agency. Then there are various recognised environmental management systems to choose from including the ISO 14000 series and the PACS 2050 in the UK.

There is also the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative from the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council. A new version of this system is due to be trialed soon.

Finally, there is the Sustainability Consortium, which groups together big companies, including Walmart, PepsiCo and Cargill in the food industry. One of its focus areas for 2010/2011 is the development of sustainability measurements and reporting standards that “aggregate different environmental and social impacts into meaningful metrics”. Coordination between these various different bodies and standards will be crucial if the hope of developing more harmonised approaches to environmental management and reporting is to be realised.

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