The Three Pillars to Sustainability

Foodservice Footprint John-Bromfield-Customer-Services-Manager-for-Transport-apetito-UK-300x199 The Three Pillars to Sustainability  Best Practice  Food companies not only need to be sustainable, they need to be able to demonstrate that they are sustainable – and that particularly includes how they treat the environment. Food miles, packaging, waste streams, recycling, power efficiency, delivery arrangements, ethical purchasing policies and vehicle emissions all come into the equation. Many companies will be pleasantly surprised to find that they are already a long way down the road of achieving a good track record on sustainability, but an outside set of eyes and an internationally-recognised benchmark can help to focus minds all the way from the shopfloor up to the board room. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs advocates a “three pillars” approach to sustainability, arguing that environmental, social and economic sustainability must go hand- in-hand to achieve true sustainability. One company that has adopted this “three pillars” model – and been recognised for its progressive approach to sustainability – is apetito, the Wiltshire-based supplier of frozen meals to schools, hospitals and social services’ departments across the country. It achieved the ISO 14001 certification in January 2007 for the successful implementation of an effective Environmental Management System. Paul Freeston, Chief Executive, said that the company took its environmental responsibilities very seriously. “As a progressive business we felt it was important to look at the management of our business and develop a strategy to put the environment high on our agenda,” he said. “The accreditation is proof that we have done just that – and proof of the company’s total dedication to make this work.” ISO 14001 is the British Standards Institute’s award for sustainability programmes. It is an internationally accepted standard that is designed to address the balance between maintaining profitability and reducing environmental impact. Among apetito’s recent successes have been a large increase in recycling of packaging waste at its Trowbridge site, the introduction of reusable crates for delivering products to healthcare customers, the recycling of 14 of the company’s 16 waste streams – with work being done to eliminate the remaining two – and a reduction in vehicle emissions by the introduction of a modern haulage fleet, improved distribution routes (reducing mileage) and the employment of an operational trainer to help the company’s 50 drivers to improve their driving efficiency. Paul believes that all areas of the company have something to offer in the area of sustainability. “Contributing to the communities in which our people live, or simply turning off lights and taps, everyone at apetito is encouraged to be involved in our drive to be a sustainable company,” he said. Although apetito believes in working on all “three pillars” of sustainability, Paul often finds that stakeholders focus on the “environmental” pillar, with questions about such issues as local sourcing, ethical trade and food miles. “We have no problem in talking about any of these,” he says. “Sustainability is about much more than where we buy our raw materials. Within the restriction of our client’s budget, we source the best value produce. “If we were to source all our produce in Britain then we would not be achieving a balance across the 3 pillars. Furthermore, we would put our suppliers in the Developing World at risk. That is not sustainable to the employees and their families in those countries or to their national economies.” “By the end of 2008 we will require all our suppliers to have signed the Ethical Trading Initiative, which promotes and improves the implementation of corporate codes of practice to cover supply chain working.” Paul also points to research from Manchester Business School in 2006 which concluded: “Evidence for a lower environmental impact of local preference in food supply and consumption overall is weak.” Interpreting this for Government policy, the Cabinet Office said: “Research on lifecycle impacts of a range of food products shows that the argument that local food has less environmental impact is weak and that global sourcing can be better for some foods.” Sustainability – and the recognition of sustainability – is clearly a complex issue requiring thought and action on many different fronts. Furthermore, it has accurately been described as a journey rather than a destination, with many opportunities for continual improvement. What is certain is that, over the coming months and years, those in the foodservice industry are going to have to take all three pillars of sustainability seriously if they are successfully to achieve the most important pillar for their shareholders – the sustainability of their organisations.