About 10 years ago, someone from a major food industry supplier called me to discuss his company’s commitment to sustainability. At that point in time, I needed to be brought up to speed on the concept. I was familiar with the term sustainability, but most of the coverage Food Engineering was publishing concerned packaging-related environmental friendliness. In addition, most of the push to protect the planet and energy-related natural resources was coming from Europe at the time.
A decade ago, greater manufacturing throughput and staff skill improvements were on the minds of our readers. In fact, trends related to sustainability were not mentioned in any of our reader surveys until 2006 when rising fuel and energy costs became a concern.  In those days, food safety, continuous improvement and the globalization of our industry were top of mind.
During the latter part of the decade, attention to responsible energy and water usage became dominant, and the term sustainability finally made it to Food Engineering’s 2009 list of top trends affecting food manufacturing. There’s been so stopping the sustainability force ever since.
With this issue, Food Engineering is celebrating the presentation of its 4th Annual Sustainable Plant of the Year Award to Stahlbush Island Farms, an industry maverick that installed a biogas system which transformed it into a carbon negative operation. Over the years, other award-winning sustainable plants have implemented a culture of near net zero energy and utility usage as well as core principles to renew, reuse and recycle that affect every production step and business practice.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with food industry leaders who concluded that, among other important topics such as FSMA requirements and related audit challenges, operator training and new technology implementation, sustainability and energy reduction will be ongoing, essential parts of their operations.
We’ve experienced a decade of great change in food and beverage processing, but none so very encompassing and rewarding as the quest for greater sustainability.