Australian food industry cuts water, carbon footprint

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 16th October 2009

The carbon and water footprints of Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing industry are being reduced to safeguard the nation’s long-term food supply, a new report by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has indicated.

Released today to coincide with World Food Day, AFGC’s Towards Sustainability report highlights that leading food and grocery companies are committed to more sustainable production while maintaining the high quality of Australia’s food supply in a global environment of water and carbon constraints.

The sustainability issue is a crucial one for the food sector with forecasts suggesting prices are set to rise as the world needs to increase food production by 70% within the next four decades. Indeed, manufacturers only needing to look back to last year to see how quickly fears of a food shortage led to unprecedented price surge in basic food commodities. Prices have since eased, but low prices appear a thing of the past.

AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said the Towards Sustainability report showcases the journey of how the industry is becoming more efficient with water, energy and waste to address the challenge of manufacturing food and grocery products with less impact on the environment.

“Without a sustainable food supply, Australia’s ability to produce safe and affordable, clean and nutritious food is at grave risk,” she said upon launching the report – which surveyed about half of AFGC’s membership in terms of turnover.

“Water and energy costs are rising and agriculture productivity is going to be increasingly unpredictable due to climate changes, so getting the sustainability balance right is crucial for the industry. This requires a fundamental shift in thinking.”

Ms Carnell said Australia has an important role to play in meeting global food requirements, in the wake of predictions that the world’s growing population was expected to reach about 9.2 billion by 2050 – requiring the world to almost double its food production.

“Some experts believe that Australia won’t have enough water to sustain necessary food in 25 years unless water use is dramatically reduced now,” she noted.

More companies in the industry are now measuring their environmental impacts by using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Framework which measures non-financial performance.

The key findings of the Towards Sustainability report included:
· Water: The food manufacturing sector uses about 215GL of water a year which is about one per cent of Australia’s total water use. In comparison, agriculture uses about 66 per cent. Water used in food processing typically represents around one tenth of household use.
· Waste: On average, the food and grocery companies surveyed recycled around 74 per cent of total waste generated – sending the equivalent of less than one per cent of finished products to landfill.
· Energy: Total greenhouse gas emissions for the industry was equivalent to about 2 per cent of Australia’s total – with transport being about 10 per cent. Almost a third of companies surveyed used renewable energy and about 50 per cent of the sample size used natural gas.

The report, which also highlights best practice industry case studies on reducing water, waste and energy, can be found at: www.afgc.org.au/index.cfm?id=886.