The year 2021 ended with the results of COP26, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, whose results – very disappointing for some and very challenging for others – further stated what has been clear for some time, at least in Italy and Europe: the fight against climate change and the long-term sustainability of production activities are and will be at the heart of the strategic priorities of international institutions and national governments in the years to come.
The EU, for its part, had already sent out a strong signal in this direction with the presentation of the European Green Deal, setting extremely challenging goals up to 2050, some of which are focused on the agri-food supply chain and agriculture in particular.
The food supply chain is called upon to support and give its contribution for more effective production processes
In this scenario, agriculture continues to be seen as one of the production activities with the greatest impact, which will be asked to make greater efforts accordingly and to set particularly ambitious targets in terms of input reduction and process efficiency.
The whole food chain – industry and distribution in the first place – will be impacted by the resulting changes and will be called upon to support and give its contribution to monitor this path.
For companies in this sector, the path is traced and staying out of it is not an option. It will be the role of industry leaders to lead the way, within the framework defined by relevant regulations, guiding the other players in the supply chain and studying and taking charge of the mechanisms that are useful for monitoring its implementation at all levels. New technologies and data revolution are able to provide the tools needed to choose and implement targeted solutions, real-time monitoring of almost all processes, from the agricultural phase to large-scale distribution shelves. Smart farming to guide and monitor farming operations, food-tech and IoT for data detection and transmission to all other levels of the supply chain, Business Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence applications for the reading and exploitation of the same data from a predictive perspective, up to BlockChain systems to lock, guarantee and share collected information with the whole supply chain. The impact of this mix of technologies on the organization of supply chains, on their efficiency, and ultimately on their environmental and economic sustainability, is potentially huge, all the more so if we consider that companies’ penetration rates of most of these tools are still very limited.
On the other hand, the recipe is not the same for everyone, which is one of the biggest challenges.
The path towards sustainability, if designed to be solid, long-lasting and “sustainable” for each company, cannot be unique. It must be developed according to the supply chain, the company, its reference market, its positioning, the requirements and expectations of its stakeholders, its supply and sales chain, its processes and its technological choices. It is necessary to start from an analysis, then set out a plan with at least medium-term goals and transfer it into a short-term program, with selected technology, processes and monitoring tools that respond to the structure, needs and possibilities of the company.
Each action has to be thought of supply chain by supply chain
Only after all this, certifications, labels and, of course, sustainability reports and budgets make sense in order to give an account of what is being done and to describe to the outside world the improvement process that is underway as well as the goals achieved and set for the future.
Environmental impact analysis, environmental impact certification tools – EPD, Carbon Footprint, PEF and many others – compensation for these impacts – carbon credits, agricultural projects to absorb CO2 and others, reporting tools – sustainability reports, first and foremost – then become the wellchosen pieces of a clear strategy and a project defined and tailored to the company’s situation. These pieces play a fundamental role; not only they certify to third parties that the company is sensitive to sustainability issues and is committed to interpreting and managing them, but also and above all they turn the company from an entity that simply reacts to the requests of a few customers by aligning itself with them, into an informed, aware and proactive entity, a leading player that has designed an appropriate and far-sighted path for sustainable improvement and is responsible for it on a daily basis.