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Q&A: Technological solution to manufactured food pollution (Includes interview)

A recent study found that 80 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the food and beverage industry are due to production. However, according to Severin Weiss of the company SpecPage, this issue can be addressed. He notes that if manufactures can seamlessly connect data across the product life cycle and across departments and geographics, they can create greater transparency and efficiency in the production process — and dramatically cut down on their carbon footprint.

To discuss how this might work, Digital Journal caught up with Severin Weiss, who is the CEO and Chairman of SpecPage. The company is a provider of solutions for the recipe-based manufacturing industry.

Digital Journal: Are environmental issues receiving sufficient media coverage?

Severin Weiss: Based on feedback from consumers, environmental issues, specifically in the food and beverage industry, are not receiving sufficient media coverage. The problem stems from two issues — inadequate education for agribusiness manufacturers regarding carbon dioxide emissions in production and environmental management of finite resources in processes and workflows.

Consumers are demanding transparency and traceability from food manufacturers, and their concerns deserve recognition in the media in order to provoke change in the industry. If the media can bring attention to both the issues and the solutions that some manufacturers are implementing, I’m confident that more companies will be inclined to utilize data to reduce their ecological footprint.

DJ: What are the ecological concerns with manufacturing recipe-based food products?

Weiss: The environmental costs and energy emissions associated with the manufacturing of recipe-based food products is problematic — 80 percent of carbon dioixde emissions in the food and beverage industry are from manufacturing processes. Most people think that transportation is to blame for high emissions, but that’s not the case at all. It is shocking to realize that the vast majority of emissions are from production — but it’s important to remember that with education and the right tools, these emissions are controllable. The bottom line is that manufacturers must take responsibility for production and processes to reduce the amount of emissions they create.

DJ: Is there an impact in terms of cost?

Weiss: There is no doubt that the initial investment in a comprehensive, adaptive solution that innovates the production process is significant. However, strategic data-driven software that delivers simple, efficient functionality will pay off with a substantial increase in return on investment and improved regulatory compliance, as well as the positive impact on the environment — those factors make it an easy decision.

DJ: How much are consumer habits driving recipe-based food products?

Weiss: Consumers are absolutely driving the changes in the recipe-based food manufacturing industry. With greater access to information, they’re becoming more aware of their own ecological footprints, and now they want the food industry to match their efforts.

They have evaluated budget considerations versus environmental sustainability and an overwhelming majority are willing to pay a few cents more per pound for products that they believe to be sustainably sourced and processed. So, in order for manufacturers to succeed in an environmentally conscious world, they must adapt — that is really the only way to earn and retain consumer trust and loyalty.

DJ: What’s the solution to reduce the ecological footprint?

Weiss: To reduce their ecological footprint, food and beverage manufacturers first must acknowledge that it is a problem and then identify the areas where they are expending too much energy — upstream and downstream. Identification and pinpointing areas for improvement is nearly impossible with a spreadsheet-based product lifecycle management system.

Once manufacturers understand that their processes need reform, they can implement data-driven solutions. An innovative, end-to-end product lifecycle management solution provides for the unique needs of manufacturers and supports seamless integration of sustainability data — providing transparency, efficiency and the best possible solution to reducing their ecological footprint.

DJ: How much of this solution is tied in with digital technology?

Weiss: The solution to manufacturer’s eco-footprint issues is 99 percent in data. A crucial part of the process is simulation trials for both new products and improvements to existing recipes.

PLM software provides planning and predictive applications that support rapid launch for new products while effectively managing updates to existing recipes. It also provides regulatory compliance tracking and efficiency processes that minimize overall risk in developing new environmentally friendly products. Quite simply, simulation and accurate trials result in a better, more profitable, more ecologically sustainable product.

Precise testing creates a smaller footprint, increased ROI and the ability to have immediate access to accurate nutrition and production data, and that is the most effective tool to reduce ecological footprints. Industry leaders who follow best practices understand that in order to thrive they must employ data-driven solutions.

DJ: How optimistic are you that a new process and technology can lead to ecological change with food production?

Weiss: The first step in reducing your ecological footprint is to commit to making a change. If top food and beverage manufacturers lead the charge, I’m confident others will follow and we will see revolutionary changes. Consumers are demanding environmentally conscious products, and industry leaders are looking for solutions to meet those customer needs. Investing in technology that will help manufacturers trace their production is a significant step forward in the green movement.

Recipe-based manufacturing and food engineering are extremely complex. Industry executives who want to increase or even sustain growth will invest in comprehensive solutions that feature their data as a strategic asset.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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