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How green are your suppliers?

27 October 2009 by
How green are your suppliers?

Operators are increasingly looking to build sustainability into their businesses with locally sourced food and energy-efficient equipment. Diane Lane finds out what credentials they need to look for in their trading partners.

With levels of global concern about the future of our planet never higher, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a much-used phrase these days. Media focus on the state of the environment and the plight of exploited workers has put CSR at the top of the agenda for suppliers, operators and consumers to the point where any company not addressing the issues of sustainability and ethical practice does so at its peril.

SAVVY CONSUMERS

Whatever business you're in, it's not enough to just pay lip service to these issues with a bit of recycling. Consumers have become savvy and will vote with their feet, as Matt Tough, sales and marketing director for food purchasing company PSL, confirms.

"Several large companies will only use hotels that can demonstrate robust CSR policies," he says. "And it's quickly becoming the norm for operators to offer some form of local produce on the menu, so one of the dangers http://www.unileverfoodsolutions.co.uk" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">of not doing this] is being left behind by your competitors.

"Besides supporting local suppliers, it meets the desires of today's consumers, who like to know the provenance of their food."

Many operators see cost as a barrier to offering local produce. After all, everyone has a gross profit to maintain and such goods tend to be more expensive, as Tough recognises.

"Small-scale local suppliers tend to command a premium price, so, despite their proximity, operators will probably end up paying more," he says.

"However, by promoting the fact that they are using local suppliers for greener produce, their customers will expect to pay more, and as long as what they are served is good quality, this will allow operators to charge a premium price."

SHOUT ABOUT IT

If you are using local or sustainable suppliers you should shout about it, advises Tough.

"Target the growing number of green-conscious consumers via menus, blackboards, posters and any ads that go into the local press and directories," he says.

When it comes to finding suppliers that take sustainability seriously, Tough has more advice. "A good starting point would be to ask what awards or accreditations they have, such as Carbon Neutral, Soil Association Approved, Red Tractor Standard and Freedom Foods. It's also worth checking their CSR policy and finding out what food mile guidelines they work to," he says.

PSL has compiled The Green Book, a directory to help operators find specialist food suppliers that meet their organic, free-range or other sustainability requirements. To download a free copy go to www.psl-uk.co.uk.

More evidence of a sustainably sensitive supplier comes from the steps they are taking to reduce their environmental impact by improving their energy-efficiency rating, offsetting carbon emissions, reducing packaging and wastage, recycling, saving water and carrying out better journey planning.

Such matters are also on the political agenda. Government focus has been most visible in the area of waste management, as our dependency on landfill for waste disposal reaches catastrophic proportions.

Referring to the Defra document Food Matters: One Year On published in August, Tough says: "WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) will be working with the food and drink industry to set a new target for reducing food waste. A new strategy will encourage prevention of excess packaging and more reuse and recycling."

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

When it comes to equipment, there's plenty to think about. The catering industry uses an estimated 21,600 million kWh of energy per year, generating a considerable carbon footprint and major costs.

The Catering for a Sustainable Future Group (CSFG) is a sub-committee of the Catering Equipment Distributors Association, the Catering Equipment Suppliers' Association and the Foodservice Consultants Society International. Earlier this year it published a guide, Energy Efficiency in Commercial Kitchens (available from www.csfg.co.uk for £60). It outlines how to reduce energy usage and make cost savings from food service facilities. It also provides advice on sustainability, including creating an energy audit.

Robert Plumb, director of food service consultant GWP, is also chairman of the CSFG. He says: "The CSFG has been charged with reviewing the energy efficiency element of equipment used in our sector of the industry, coming up with benchmarks and an overview on how operators can select equipment that is energy-efficient and more suited to their specific needs.

"It recognises that this is not the only consideration in this process and that key elements such as price, reliability and life-cycle costs need to be considered in the procurement process.

"Unfortunately, capital costs seem to be the key driver, but hopefully as a group we can introduce operators to considering life-cycle costs in addition to energy, such as water consumption, service and maintenance costs, downtime costs, operator training and use."

Plumb recognises that the issue of capital cost versus operating cost is always going to have an impact. "The provider will want to minimise their capital expenditure, which often has a major impact on operational and running costs. The operator is then left with the ongoing running costs and problems," he explains.

"Outside this we have yet to start challenging the manufacturers as to their sustainability in manufacture - for instance, buying from sustainable sources in respect of the materials used. Are these renewable or purchased from sources that are accredited?

"This is perhaps easier in respect of natural products such as wood, but how do you assess a manufactured item such as stainless steel, as this is a material made from a non-renewable source of iron ore?"

SHOWING CONSIDERATION

How the use of renewable and recyclable materials affects performance and ultimately the price of products is another consideration. Plumb says: "All manufacturers are under pressure to keep costs under control, but are their base materials purchased from ethical manufacturers paying fair wages? Also, how do they ensure their suppliers do not use cheap labour or pollute the local environment?"

Then, post-manufacture, there's the issue of what effect the equipment has on the environment during its life cycle. Plumb continues: "At GWP we have developed a programme that can calculate the carbon footprint of the appliances we have specified in a project and can show the impact of adding and removing certain items.

"The selection of equipment type will also have an impact on the environment, such as waste disposers on the drainage system, detergents on the waste system, and heat recovery on hot-water systems and refrigeration systems. Each appliance will have an environmental impact that we need to assess."

As for the way forward, Plumb says: "There is a need for all operators to develop technical and operational specifications that can be given to developers to ensure these ongoing sustainability issues are addressed. Perhaps we, as an industry, should develop a sustainable check list that manufacturers have to comply with."


CSR: WHO'S DOING WHAT

[3663](http://www.3663.co.uk)This year 3663 merged its Kent operations into a new £17.6m environmentally sensitive, sustainable multi-temperature food distribution hub at Paddock Wood, where materials on the site were reused as the basis of the new building.

The site includes a waste recovery area, where cardboard and polythene packaging is collected and palletised for recycling, and rainwater is recycled for vehicle washing, toilet flushing and cooling of plant evaporative condensers.

Renewable sources of energy are used to generate 13% of electricity, including solar panels in the warehouse roof. The flow of natural light into the building has been structured to reduce energy consumption and artificial lighting is photocell-activated to avoid wastage.

In 2005, 3663 embarked on a local sourcing initiative offering local and regional ranges from around Britain, and in 2008 the ranges were extended to include 551 products from 79 local suppliers in East Anglia, the South-west, Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire.

A total of 136 food and non-food products come from sources certified by the Soil Association, the Fairtrade Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council and Rainforest Alliance and the company also supplies Red Tractor meat, poultry and potato products.

The transport fleet uses computerised routing systems that have reduced the average distance travelled by an item from 0.51km to 0.47km, and wind deflector kits that reduce fuel consumption. Older vehicles have continuous regenerating traps, which reduce harmful emissions by more than 90%.

In 2008 a recycling programme that turns waste cooking oil into biodiesel - a non-toxic, biodegradable, renewable alternative to petroleum diesel - was launched, and 485 trucks at nine depots started using a 30/70 mix of biodiesel/standard diesel. This reduced annual CO2 emissions by 10,000 tonnes.

[Bunzl Catering Supplies](http://www.bunzlcatering.co.uk)

Bunzl has a BeGreen policy, which sets standards and measures operating improvements in areas such as recycling, reducing fuel usage and sourcing green products.

Initiatives for reducing fuel usage include introducing aerodynamic double-deck trailers to its national distribution centre truck operation and a commitment to replacing the entire fleet with aerodynamic vehicles.

This month, in association with Sodexo, Bunzl will introduce its first electric light goods vehicle. Manufactured by Smith Electric, it can travel up to 130 miles a day, and costs 10% less to run than a vehicle using conventional fuel.

[Cadbury](http://www.dearcadbury.com)

In 2008 Cadbury established the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership (CCP), in which it will invest £45m over the next 10 years to secure the sustainable socio-economic future of cocoa farming in Ghana, India, Indonesia and the Caribbean.

The CCP aims to improve farm income levels by developing farmer education programmes that explore best cocoa management practices, leading to high quality and increased yields.

In July, Cadbury Dairy Milk launched its Fairtrade-certified chocolate bars, becoming the first mass-market chocolate product to gain certification from the Fairtrade Foundation.

[GlaxoSmithKline](http://www.gsk.com)

GlaxoSmithKline footprinted its products in 2006 and has been developing new manufacturing processes to reduce the amount of resources consumed to avoid waste at source. Meanwhile, its Coleford site has achieved "Zero to Landfill" status by recycling all the waste it generates.

All Ribena is now packaged in 100% recycled PET, saving 8,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, and work on new valves and caps aims to reduce material use and improve recycling.

A new bottle-blowing facility will include a trigeneration plant, which will provide heat, electricity and cooling and reduce the overall carbon footprint of the products.

The company supports UK blackcurrant farmers by working with the Wildlife Trusts to prepare biodiversity action plans at all farms. Evidence that warmer winters are causing reduced crops has prompted development of varieties that will cope with climate change.

[Kenco Coffee Company ](http://www.kencocoffeecompany.co.uk)

Kraft Foods, parent of the Kenco Coffee Company, has been working with the Rainforest Alliance since 2003, and 75% of beans for the Kenco freeze-dried coffee range are now sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. The company aims to have its entire coffee portfolio sourced in this way by 2010. It also sources its cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms and has opened up new supplies from certified sources in West Africa since 2006.

At Kenco's Banbury coffee production site, where soluble coffee is manufactured for vending, 85% of the plant's electrical energy requirement is generated on site by combined heat and power units.

The company has cut its fuel consumption and achieved a 14% reduction in CO2 emissions since 2005 by working with third-party logistic providers, industry, trade and government agencies to reduce the distance its fleets travel.

[McCain](http://www.mccainfoodservice.co.uk)

McCain has invested in a combined heat and power facility at its Whittlesey plant, which will run on renewable energy generated by biogas from an on-site waste water treatment plant. Its Scarborough site recovers waste heat from the cooking process and uses it to heat water during the preparation process.

The issue of food miles is addressed through using potatoes exclusively from the UK to make McCain chips. All potatoes are sourced as close to the factories as possible, and the introduction of double-deck delivery vehicles has reduced road miles by 20%.

Solar panels are used to power the refrigeration units on the lorries, which reduces the amount of fuel used.

[Nestlé Professional](http://www.nestleprofessional.com)

In the UK, Nestlé Professional aims to reduce its energy consumption by 10% by 2010. Initiatives include using a coffee by-product to generate 20% of its Tutbury factory's energy requirements.

More than half the company's packaging in the UK is recyclable, including catering coffee tins, meaning a reduction of up to three million tins being sent to landfill each year.

The company reduced water consumption by 20% in the UK & Ireland in 2007 compared with 2006. At its York factory it has saved 51 million litres of water in the past five years.

Work is also being undertaken to treat waste water. For example, at the Dalston factory, the surplus of milk, water and vegetable oil is treated to produce clean waste water and the resulting by-product is used as a fertilizer by local farmers.

Nestlé sponsors programmes around the world that train farmers in coffee-producing countries and also supports the Fairtrade Foundation.

[Steelite International](http://www.steelite.com)

In 2007 Steelite International recycled 90% of the total scrap and waste it produced, a 20% improvement on 2006.

It achieved this by using the Lamella system for recycling clay waste from the manufacturing process, where waste water is separated from solids without the use of chemicals.

During its first year of operation it recycled 400 tonnes of clay body that would have otherwise been sent to landfill. This also reduced fuel and vehicle emissions that would have been created to transport the waste to landfill.

[Unilever

Last year Unilever Foodsolutions relocated from three sites to new premises in Leatherhead, Surrey. Energy-saving features there include a ground-source heat pump system that uses the thermal properties of the ground to cut energy bills by up to 40%, solar-reduction glass that cuts heat gained through windows and stabilises air-conditioning requirements, solar panels on the roof that preheat water, and motion sensors that ensure lights are on only when a space is occupied.

Unilever's long-term aim is to buy all its agricultural raw materials from sustainable sources through its Sustainable Agriculture Programme, established more than 10 years ago.

Unilever acquired its own tea estate in Kericho, Kenya, in 1984, where 100% of the energy used comes from hydropower and renewable eucalyptus forests. It has planted more than 320,000 indigenous trees in Kenya and has donated a similar number of seedlings to the wider community.

In 2007 Unilever committed to purchasing all its tea from sustainable, ethical sources and worked with the Rainforest Alliance to apply sustainable farming standards. More than 30 estates have achieved Rainforest Alliance Certified status, including Unilever's own estates in Kenya and Tanzania and third-party suppliers in India and Argentina. At the end of 2008 at least 50% of the tea in Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips sold in Western Europe came from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.

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