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Stop guessing, start assessing: How automating product level assessments for your portfolio can accelerate supply chain decarbonisation

In today's rapidly changing business landscape, sustainability has become more than just a buzzword—it's a strategic imperative. As companies strive to decarbonise their own operations alongside their supply chain, minimise their environmental footprint and meet evolving consumer expectations, the need for data-driven decision-making has never been more critical. For food manufacturers, this means embarking on a sustainability journey that requires careful planning and strategic action. At Sustained, we understand that this journey is best tackled step by step, and our technology solutions are designed to guide you through this process.

Product-level Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) offer a powerful tool for understanding the environmental impact of products throughout their lifecycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. In a previous blog we looked into the synergy between carbon accounting and product-level LCAs, and shed light on the vital role the latter play in identifying environmental hotspots and guiding impactful sustainability initiatives. Building on this foundation, we explore in this article how achieving broad product coverage is essential for effectively prioritising impact reduction efforts.

Identifying the right solution for your needs

When considering investing in technological solutions for your sustainability needs, starting with a small sample of products to validate the platform’s suitability is a valid and recommended approach, and one we use with most of our customers. However, once validated, we advocate for broadening the scope by onboarding all products rather than focusing solely on increasing the accuracy through first party and primary data coverage of a small set. In the following sections, we'll delve into the reasons why this broader approach is crucial for accelerating your sustainability efforts.

The challenge of data collection 

Many companies are hesitant to embark on large-scale LCAs due to the extensive data collection required. This process can seem daunting and resource-intensive, often discouraging companies from starting their sustainability journey altogether. However, while comprehensive data collection is necessary in the long run, it shouldn’t deter you from taking the first steps. Sustainability is a journey, and as with most journeys, it doesn’t happen overnight. Start with the little data you have. We supplement any gaps with regional defaults and secondary data to get you to actionable insights as soon as possible. Remember, starting small is better than not starting at all, and over time, you can refine your products and replace those defaults with the data you collected. 

A Step-by-Step Journey to Impact Reduction

Step 1: Start with the Data You Have

To get started with Sustained Impact, you only need the following basic information:

  • Generic product details: Product name, ID, net amount, solid vs liquid and category 
  • Ingredient information: Ingredient names and amounts.
  • Packaging information: Packaging types (ie. bottle, box etc.), materials (ie. PET, Cardboard etc.), and amounts.

Everything else can be defaulted initially and gradually replaced with more precise data as you collaborate with your supply chain over time, providing increasingly accurate insights as you progress.

Step 2: Quantity Over Quality to Start

Begin by onboarding all your food products into the Sustained Impact system to establish your baseline impact or starting point (don’t forget step 1!). This entails analysing the impact over an entire reference year of production. By capturing production volumes per product, you can assess the overall environmental footprint of your entire product range. 

Through this comprehensive assessment, you'll identify the 'worst offenders' – products that contribute the most to your overall impact. Surprisingly, these may not align with your biggest sellers or those perceived to be the most environmentally harmful. The true impact is influenced by various factors, primarily production volumes, revealed only through full-scale analysis. Identifying these 'worst offenders' enables you to prioritise impact reduction efforts effectively, focusing on the most significant contributors to your carbon and environmental footprint.

Step 4: Reformulation for Impact Reduction

Armed with a prioritised list of products, the next step is reformulation. This involves modifying recipes or sourcing different ingredients to mitigate the environmental impact of the product. For instance, transitioning to a more sustainable supplier or tweaking the product composition can markedly reduce its footprint. 

Step 5: Forecasting Impact Reduction

After modelling changes, it’s essential to validate their potential effectiveness at scale. By forecasting the impact reduction based on past production volumes, you can predict how these changes will help you meet your sustainability targets. This step ensures that the adjustments you make are not only theoretically beneficial but also practically significant when applied across your production lines.

Step 6: Implementing Changes

Once the reformulation and forecasting stages confirm the potential for impact reduction, the next step is to implement these changes in your production processes. This transition requires planning and integration with your existing systems to ensure a smooth shift towards more sustainable practices.

Step 7: Continuous Monitoring and Improvement

Sustainability is an ongoing journey that requires continuous monitoring and improvement. Tracking monthly production impact, in the same way you did with your baseline, enables companies to assess progress, evaluate the effectiveness of changes, and stay on track to meet sustainability targets. This is where embedding sustainability as part of your day-to-day operations begins!

The Need for Automation in Sustainability

Embedding sustainability into daily operations requires seamless integration with existing systems and workflows. Automation plays a pivotal role in this process by streamlining sustainability initiatives and enhancing efficiency and accuracy. By leveraging API integrations with existing Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, companies can ensure data consistency and maintain a single source of truth for product information.

This ensures that sustainability efforts are not only accurate but also seamlessly integrated into the organisation's current processes. Automation not only saves valuable time but also drives continuous improvement by providing real-time actionable insights for strategic decision-making. By embracing automation, businesses can effectively incorporate sustainability into their day-to-day operations, laying the foundation for long-term success in environmental stewardship.

Embracing a Holistic Approach to Sustainability

By adopting a holistic approach to sustainability, companies can confidently navigate the complexities of environmental impact reduction. Through comprehensive product-level assessments, prioritisation of reduction efforts, and automation, organisations can pave the way for a greener, more sustainable future.

Let Sustained Impact be your trusted guide on this journey towards sustainable success. 

Book a free demo today.