By Andy Harig, Senior Director, Sustainability, Tax & Trade, Food Marketing Institute

At a conference in June, a young man spotted “FMI” on my nametag and struck up a conversation. “I’m interested in the food industry and want to be part of it, but I don’t understand where sustainability lives.” I was a little taken aback at this and asked what he meant. “I want to work on sustainability at a company, but I don’t want to get caught up in the economic and number games that go along with business. So, I want to know where sustainability lives in the industry?”

I have the honor of being the staff liaison to FMI’s Sustainability Executive Committee (SEC) and I think the 25 professionals who make up its membership would be surprised to hear the hard work of making a business case for action is considered by some as a “numbers game.” But the question is a fair one.

When the SEC met in February, FMI polled the members on their priority issues and came up with an incredibly diverse set of topics that demonstrate how far-reaching “sustainability” is. These topics include:

  1. Carbon Footprint
  2. Responsible Sourcing
  3. Animal Welfare
  4. Reducing Food Waste / Increasing Donations
  5. Water Availability
  6. Human Rights
  7. Circular Economy
  8. Healthy Eating
  9. Local regulation of plastic bags, Styrofoam, straws, etc.
  10. Traceability

This list touches virtually every aspect of our businesses – from supply chain to communications to community affairs.

FMI’s efforts to address food waste points to the way sustainability “lives” within many of our member companies. The Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), which FMI formed with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and National Restaurant Association, remains the premier business-focused organization addressing the 25-40 percent of waste that ends up diverted from the human food supply every year. 2018 brought with it the opportunity to share the FWRA’s efforts in presentations before SNAP educators, waste professionals and the American Academy of Dietetics. We also partnered with the food waste organization ReFED to produce a retail food waste action guide.

The industry’s food waste efforts remain strong, but 2018 was undoubtedly “the year of plastics”. States and localities expanded their efforts to ban single-use plastics and the general public was treated to intense media attention surrounding the issue. FMI created an invaluable legislative tracking tool that allowed our members to stay abreast of state and local plastics legislation through our StateTrac platform. The SEC also worked with FMI’s state Government Relations department and several other internal committees to develop and disseminate resources to help companies address their internal policies on plastics, including a list of international plastics regulation. We also joined a project run by the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) addressing recycling of “contaminated” pre-consumer plastics.

This rundown of 2018’s efforts is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t cover important areas like water management and animal welfare, nor our efforts to engage activist groups in a proactive manner. The list does, however, provide an answer to the young man’s question. Where does sustainability live? At the center of the industry’s business model.

  • Corporate and Social Responsibility
  • 2018 Advocacy
  • 2018 Operations
  • 2018 Resources
  • Sustainability