SBS21: Food for Thought: Make Life Sustainable

Northern Gas and Power

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham and Coventry and Warwickshire Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2021 Sustainable Business Series: Net Zero campaign.

The Sustainable Business Series: Net Zero is the Chamber’s first campaign on environmental sustainability, which aims to share best practice, guidance and knowledge to increase business progress to net zero. In 2021, this involves 5 free online webinars taking place from the end of September and throughout October along with publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content. The campaign will feature a Sustainability Summit on 3rd November

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Aston University, Arup, Morgan Sindall and the University of Birmingham - all webinars and the Summit are free to attend. Interested parties can find out more and register to attend Sustainable Business Series: Net Zero events here, and the Sustainable Business Summit here.


Food and beverage demand is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

Manufacturers are under intense pressure to meet ever-growing demand from regulators and consumers – and – will need to nourish a global population that is projected to rise from 7.8 billion in 2020 to 9.7 billion in 2050. With this demand comes a heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Effective energy management is now a business necessity, and all eyes are on industry to address its responsibility for the depletion of fossil fuels and the emission of carbon dioxide in food and beverage plants. The pressure on food and beverage companies to maximise resources has never been greater.

Greener and More Sustainable

Shareholders and stakeholders in the supply chain, such as the supermarkets, are putting pressure on food and drink factories to become greener and more sustainable.

The reality is, it is a win-win for all parties. Reducing waste and increasing efficiency helps to lower the bottom line for businesses. In increasing efficiency, companies also boost their environmental credentials. If the food and beverage sector looks at this as an opportunity to increase its value, it can see it is also ideal for people, planet and profit.

Developing energy efficiency strategies is crucial. Energy efficiency initiatives enable industries such as food and beverage to reduce consumption and improve operational output, allowing for a better client experience.

Energy Efficiency

These companies have the opportunity to lead the way in driving energy efficiency. Companies first need to measure where their energy is used. Once you have visibility of what the causes are for energy consumption, whether it is a specific process or a piece of machinery, it is easier to identify what efficiencies can be made for that particular consumption.

Reducing Costs

By way of further example, if 60 per cent of total gas consumption is accredited to one boiler, it makes sense to focus on how that can be made more efficient, either a new, more efficient boiler, a combined heat or power unit, or an alternative to natural gas, such as food waste or the development of hydrogen to truly cut emissions. This also has the added bonus of reducing costs.

Green Credentials

Renewable sources energy conservation is vital for the sustainable development of the food and beverage industry.

Savings could be as little as a few per cent, to over 40 per cent in savings in year one. Such is the plethora of technologies available. Variable speed drives for motors typically have a sub one year payback. However solar PV typically has a payback of around eight years.

Each site is unique, therefore there is no one size fits all solution, neither is there one financing of these solutions.

The food and beverage processing industry has the potential to integrate the use of renewable energy sources to reduce pollution and waste generation, and so reduce overall costs.

Renewable Energy

Producing energy on-site is the best means to reduce costs. Renewable energy such as solar on the roof or the car park is the ideal way to utilise those spaces. Vertical wind turbines are also commercially viable, but produce little energy.

Anaerobic digestion plants are a viable source for power and gas supplies but require a large amount of organic waste to fuel them. Hydrogen production is the next generation that will replace gas fired CHPs, however this market is very much embryonic.

Geothermal power from an abandoned coal mine is the most robust way to extract heat for the long term, however such projects are incredibly costly and take time to develop, but will last more than 50 years.

Greater Profit

It’s clear that thinking of energy as a business-as-usual operating cost is no longer acceptable. An accessible path to greater profit is balancing profitability and sustainability and transforming challenges into opportunities.

The constant quest to decrease costs and increase tight margins, whilst serving a growing population and meeting increasing demands from consumers and regulators, is weighing on the food and beverage industry. The technology to cut energy costs, reduce energy consumption, boost operational performance, and extend equipment longevity exists. It’s just a question of whether or not companies choose to leverage it to improve the sustainability of food production.