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The ever-increasing global population and the rise in environmental consciousness have created a demand for sustainable business practices. Sustainable business practices vary among different sectors and are often specific to the company type and the product or service it produces. Some companies might install energy-efficient lighting and allow their employees to have flexible schedules, while others might invest in sustainable sourcing of materials and a cleaner production process.

In the agriculture and food industry, sustainable business practices are intended to protect the environment, reduce waste production, increase productivity, and reduce operating costs.

What are Sustainable Business Practices?

Sustainable business practices involve environmental-friendly and socially responsible initiatives implemented by a company to reduce its environmental footprint and contribute to equitable social development. The type of initiatives that a company implements often depends on their financial resources and the extent to which they are willing to reduce carbon emissions and promote social sustainability.  Besides, the implementation of sustainable business practices helps companies to save money.

Sustainable Business Practices for the Food and Agriculture Sector

The food and agriculture sector is the world’s largest industry, and it is responsible for approximately 26% of global GHG emissions. The need for sustainable business practices in the food and agriculture industry is increasingly urgent to reduce carbon emissions and promote overall sustainability.  Here are 10 sustainable business practices that can be implemented in the food and agriculture industry.

1. Methane digesters:

In the agriculture and food industry, waste is generated daily from the production of food to its processing, distribution, and consumption. Without thoughtful management, organic waste can emit methane gas as they decompose. Molecules of methane that make their way into the atmosphere create a warming effect that is up to 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time horizon. The emission of methane gas into the atmosphere can be controlled through the use of methane digesters that transform food waste into two main products: biogas (an energy source) and solids called digestrate (a nutrient-rich fertilizer). The biogas generated can help businesses to save money by reducing their operating cost. For example, biogas can be used on the farm to heat buildings, and for restaurants, it can be used as an energy source for cooking. In other words, biogas can be used to reduce or eliminate electric bills. Furthermore, excess biogas can also be sold to neighboring operations and utility grids and this can serve as a source of revenue for businesses.

2. Composting:

Food and agricultural businesses who can’t afford biodigesters can effectively manage their organic waste and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills through composting. Also,the composting process averts methane emissions that cause global warming, and it converts organic material into valuable fertilizer that can be used to enrich poor soil and improve plant growth. Besides, composting also benefits restaurants and farmlands by lowering their waste hauling and disposal cost.

3. Farmland irrigation:

The growth in global food demand is placing unprecedented pressure on water resources. Globally, farmlands consume about 70% of the world’s freshwater resources, and this has made farmlands to be in constant competition with domestic and industrial sectors for scarce water supply. Apart from the depletion of water resources, the pumping and distribution of farm water for irrigation also requires energy that releases carbon emissions in the process. Farmers can reduce their carbon footprint by engaging in sustainable irrigation methods that can provide adequate hydration for crops even without requiring significant energy input or financial capital. Examples of sustainable irrigation methods include drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, deficit irrigation, sensor irrigation, etc. The use of these irrigation methods could avoid about 1.13 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions and save about 68 billion gallons of water.

4. Biodegradable packaging:

Packaging is very important in the food and agriculture industry because it helps to preserve food quality and safety, reduce food waste, food-borne diseases, and extend the shelf-life of food. Most restaurants and agricultural companies currently make use of fossil-based packaging materials which are non-biodegradable and hazardous to the environment if not disposed of properly. One way businesses can reduce their environmental footprint is by using biodegradable packaging that can be recycled and composted. Also, since more consumers are beginning to care about shopping from brands and businesses that are sustainable, businesses can show their commitment to sustainability and gain competitive advantage by investing in biodegradable packaging.

5. Silvopasture:

Silvopasture is the intentional combination of trees, forage plants, and grazing livestock on the same land. Since livestock produces roughly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, the silvopastoral system has been acknowledged as the best grassland technique for sequestering carbon in both the biomass aboveground and the soil below. Furthermore, by integrating livestock, trees, and any additional forestry products, such as nuts, fruits, mushrooms, and maple syrup, landowners can generate stable income on different time horizons — some more regularly and short-term (sale of chickens, nuts, fruits, etc.), and some at much longer intervals (timbers and cattle, etc.).Also, because the integration of trees into grazing lands enhances soil fertility and moisture, farmers can cut costs by reducing the use of fertilizer and irrigation.

6. Nutrient Management:

Proper nutrient management in agricultural systems is needed to improve fertilizer-use efficiency, ensure that crops take up a greater proportion of the fertilizer applied, and reduce the possibility of nitrogen from fertilizers seeping into groundwater or traveling through surface runoff to streams and rivers and eventually causing algal blooms and oxygen-depleted oceanic dead zones. Farm owners can reduce their environmental footprint by matching fertilizer choices with plant needs, managing fertilizer applications to deliver nitrogen when and where crop demand is highest and applying the right amount of fertilizer to avoid polluting water bodies.

7. Reduce Food Waste:

Globally, food waste accounts for roughly 8 percent of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The production of uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources such as seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, human and financial capital. Farmers can reduce food waste by carrying out a market evaluation of their crops and by also securing a buyer before planting. Also, the implementation of adequate storage, processing, and transportation facilities would lead to a reduction in food waste. Restaurants can reduce food waste by conducting a waste audit to see where the most waste is being produced, by training staff to reduce food waste, by storing food properly, and by using the FIFO (first-in, first-out) method that ensures that older stocks are used up first before newer items. Here are more insights on how restaurants can reduce food waste.

8. Reduce Energy Waste:

According to Energy Star, restaurants use about five to seven times more energy per square foot than any other commercial building. Up to 80% of that energy is wasted through the use of inefficient lighting, cooling,  and heating technologies as well as the use of energy-consuming kitchen appliances. Restaurants can reduce energy consumption and save money by using energy-efficient equipment, and by investing in renewable energy technologies. In many states like Florida, public utility companies offer rebate programs to restaurants to help them offset the cost of making energy-efficiency upgrades.

9. Reduce Water Waste:

According to the EPA, about 15% of all commercial and industrial water supplied is used by restaurants. The largest uses of water in restaurants are associated with equipment and processes that take place in the kitchen. Restrooms account for the second-highest use of water in restaurants. Restaurants can conserve water and maximize savings on utility bills by installing water-saving toilets to reduce the amount of water used with each flush, and by replacing water-intensive equipment with water-efficient models.

10. Greening your supply chain:

Restaurants can reduce their environmental and social footprint by buying products from suppliers who have shown strong commitments to sustainability, by purchasing products made from recycled materials, and by sourcing ingredients locally. A restaurant that can show that its ingredients and products are sustainably sourced is more likely to attract a new demographic of customers that are more conscious about their food choices.

How to Successfully Implement Sustainable Businesses Practices

The implementation of sustainable business practices in the food and agriculture industry can be quite challenging especially for businesses that lack enormous financial resources and sustainability knowledge. The most effective way businesses can ensure the successful implementation of sustainable business practices is by becoming a member of the Green Business Bureau (GBB). The GBB provides professional guidance to businesses that desire to become sustainable, and also offers convenient and cost-effective tools that can help businesses to efficiently implement sustainable business practices.

About the Author

Grace Olupinyo

GBB Green Ambassador

Grace Olupinyo is a graduate student of Global Sustainability at the University of South Florida were she focuses on Climate Change and Sustainability. As an international student, she cares deeply about activities that promote sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Outside her academic and career pursuit, Grace enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures.

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