Tackling climate change is crucial and one way is to reduce carbon emissions. The food and beverage sector will see more demand in the future. Hence, it is necessary to adopt a sustainable approac

Need for a change

Data shows that 3 million premature deaths can be prevented if there is a reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions by 2100. If we take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) now, by 2030, we can help prevent 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths.
Hence, there is an urgent need to reduce global GHG emissions and one way we can help is by changing the pattern of food production and consumption. There is an ongoing effort to draw attention to the impact food habits have on the environment and climate. Studies have shown that GHG emissions from food production contribute to 37% of global emissions.

There is a need for collective effort as GHG emissions are not just limited to one point. The change has to be made at all levels in the supply chainfrom farmers, manufacturers, packaging, transport to retailers and, finally, the consumers.


Data shows 25% of the GHG emissions worldwide are caused by food production, only marginally less than electricity and heat generation. We can split the carbon emissions as
emissions caused by growing crops for human consumption and feeding animal feedstock, and land use for growing crops for humans and raising and feeding livestock. Food production also causes GHG emissions due to methane emissions from cattle digestion, manure from animals and waste management. Therefore, the people involved in food production have a big role to play in curbing GHG emissions.
There has been rise in emissions from land use due to forest degradation, deforestation and increase in use of land for growing crops. Emissions can be reduced by adopting farming methods which are environment-friendly. One practice that has gained attention recently is regenerative farming which has methods like cover crops, flowering strips and intercropping. Regenerative agriculture has many advantages like increase in soil fertility, reduction in waste generation and higher carbon sequestration.
There is also the option to turn animal manure into cleaner fuel. There are some dairy operators who are using anaerobic digesters to capture the methane release and convert it into clean energy.

Processing/manufacturing units

The next step in supply chain which can help curb GHG emissions is processing or manufacturing. A big step in going green while manufacturing is to source local as it reduces distance and transportation, thus reducing the GHG emission due to refrigeration for keeping good fresh produce and also fuel consumption due to miles covered. Another key point is considering energy use while processing or manufacturing.
One key way to reduce the carbon footprint is to monitor energy usage by opting for smart meters and then taking steps to reduce consumption of energy such as switching off lights and machines when not in use. Another option is to search for greener options for energy use. Units can also invest in green and renewable options for energy consumption such as wind and solar power. Water is another finite resource that is required in plenty for manufacturing processes like cooling or cleaning, so there is a need to opt for using treated water for cooling processes. Manufacturers can look into sourcing raw material from farms that use sustainable cultivation methods which reduce the GHG emissions.
But the biggest challenge is food waste. Though studies show that nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted annually, only 9% of the GHG emissions due to food waste come from processing industry. There is still room for improvement. Manufacturers need to produce user-oriented packaging and optimized product sizes to curb wastage. There is also a need to indicate that some food can be consumed even if they are past the sell-by date. Many manufacturers can also look at redesigning workflows, automation and use of artificial intelligence for food production, sorting and quality control.
Practicing circular economy by sourcing regionally, improving processes for maximum efficiency, and working with partners who opt for sustainable practices is a big step towards reducing GHG emissions.


Plastic is everywherefrom the packaging on the food being bought to the shopping bags used to carry it home. Data from a news report shows only 9% of the plastic is recycled and the remaining 91% goes to landfills or is incinerated. As per data, in 2019, producing and incineration of plastic was responsible for around 800 million metric tonne of GHG. Hence, there is an urgent need to look at environment-friendly packaging material.
Many manufacturers and processing units are looking at options like reducing packaging or going packaging-free to use of recycled or recyclable materials. The best way to create sustainable packaging is to study the packaging dimensions for optimised use of space and weight bearing capacity including the product, labels and any informative material to be included. Then comes the choice for sustainable raw materials with certified origins like paper or cardboard. The packaging providers must have certification like ISO 14000 certifying the commitment to environment.
There are many companies looking to develop environment-friendly packaging materials. There is development of a protective coating for fruits and vegetables made from pomace' the pulpy residue left after making juice or oil to reduce spoilage of fresh produce. Using 100% recycled paper for packaging is a good option as it has a lower carbon footprint than fresh paper packaging. Manufacturers can also look at recyclable shrink wrap options like cold wrap' technology, which saves 90% of the energy used in shrink wrapping.
Another packaging practice to adopt would be proportioned packaging such as having pre-portionedingredients in meal kits to reduce food waste.


There are four modes for transporting large quantities of raw and packaged food water, rail, truck, and air. As per statistics, transport of food via trucks comprises more than 75% of food transportation in the United States while air transport accounts for 9%. Transportation accounts for around 6% of the GHG emissions for packaged food. But transportation of the plant-based products including grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables contributes more than 16% of the emissions.
The method used for transportation also plays a major part in determining its contribution in a product's GHG emissions. If air transport is used to deliver fresh foods from distant locations, transportation will be a major contributor to the emissions. Ocean transport generally produces low emissions per unit of freight as goods are transported in bulk.
Therefore, it is important to choose the proper mode of transport to reduce the carbon emissions. Optimization of existing network is a must to practice sustainable transportation and reduce GHG emissions. Some manufacturers are looking at bulk transport of goods to central locations via waterways or rail network and then using roadways to transfer smaller portions to retailers.
Packaging also plays an important part in choosing mode of transport. As weight is an important factor in calculating freight costs, plastic is a good choice for packaging. But since it is not environmentally friendly, many are looking at sturdy options like recycled cardboard or paper packaging. Opting for software to help manage and track logistics in real time is a good way to integrate sustainability into transportation.


The last stop in the supply chain for food to reach the consumers is the retailers where the production, transportation and consumption meet. It is in the retailers' interest to be more sustainable to meet the values of environment-conscious customers and get ready for the climate change regulations coming down the pipeline.
The United States has atleast 38,000 supermarkets, which translates to a carbon footprint of at least 112 million metric tonnes not including the emissions caused by food and plastic waste. Most supermarkets have high intensity of energy use compared to other commercial buildings, hence reducing the money spent on energy use can also have a significant impact on operational costs. Some opportunities to save around $15,000 in use of energy are regular monitoring of equipment, removing lights in breakroom vending machines, turning off appliances when not in use and making sure refrigerated return air vents are not obstructed.
Retailers should also invest in clean energy opportunities like upgrading to LED lighting, high-efficiency commercial food service equipment and adding alarms and auto-closers to walk-in cooler and freezer doors.
Another way to adopt sustainable practices is to source local and offer food that is nearing expiry date at discounted prices to consumers. Retailers should also source food produce from partners adopting sustainable practices to minimise their carbon emissions. A good option is to donate any fresh produce that is nearing expiry to food shelters and non profit organizations. Retailers should also encourage consumers to avoid use of plastic by using their own bags for bagging their shopping.


The last link of a food cycle is the consumer who eats the food that has been farmed, processed, packaged, transported and distributed to retailers. It is estimated that about 33% of food, worth about $750 billion, is wasted annually and consumers are the main reason. Studies have shown that each person wastes around 428858 pounds of food per year, on average. It is suggested that smaller households should avoid buying foods in bulk, as there is less chance of spoilage. Consumers should also cut down on food having high calorie count and low nutritional value as it can result in 29% reduction of the potential emissions. Consumers can also plan meals in advance, have only what you need and reuse leftovers for the next meal in an effort to reduce emissions.
Opting for more plant-based options can reduce your GHG emissions. Cutting back on use of dairy products such as milk and cheese is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint as a study has shown that dairy products are the second largest contributor to individual GHG emissions after meat. Buying produce locally and supporting local farmers reduces dependence on food transported over vast distances. Another way to support the environment can be ditching plastic and using your bags to shop for groceries. Using your mugs or water bottles instead of buying them is also a step in going green.

The final word

Reducing GHG emissions is a collective effort and it is not the responsibility of a single sector in a supply chain to bring about a change. Demand for food is only going to increase and hence the food and beverage industry has to adopt sustainable practices such asimproving agricultural efficiency, reducing food waste and improving packaging. It is time to define and implement a holistic strategy to reduce GHG emissions.