According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), three billion more people worldwide will join the middle classes in the next two decades. That’s 150 million more people per year, most of whom will be looking to purchase more protein-based, healthy food and drink products.
Couple this trend with the expanding demographic of longer living and healthier senior citizens globally and the associated new consumer emphasis on health and wellness and we begin to see the opportunity for incremental growth in food as a source of health and nutrition. Over the same time period competition for resources and inputs into food production will increase and their provision will be volatile. This will drive a need, the scale of which we will not have seen before, for the smart use of resources. Food production systems and supply chains will need to innovate and respond to be more sustainable – meaning less resource intensive, less impactful on the environment more socially aware and able to deliver healthy and nutritional foods to consumers. Ireland is working towards becoming a leading source of sustainably produced food and drinks products through a unique government programme called ORIGIN GREEN.
IRELAND HAS TWO MAJOR NATURAL ADVANTAGES WITH REGARDS TO FOOD PRODUCTION – A TEMPERATE CLIMATE, RICH SOIL AND ABUNDANT WATER SUPPLIES.
Here weather and rich soil contribute to the growth of naturally healthy grasslands, perfect for raising grass-fed dairy cows, cattle, sheep, pigs, and edible crops. With such natural resources supporting the programme, Origin Green and its participants are turning Ireland into a leading producer of healthy, sustainable food to European countries and beyond.
Developed by Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) and launched, in partnership with industry, in 2012, Origin Green is the first sustainability programme of its kind anywhere in the world.
Working with the entire food production chain, from crops and animals to manufacturer output, Origin Green is a voluntary programme that measures current practices, promotes sustainability best practices, and evaluates the effects of those practices for feedback and continuous improvement. The programme is already seeing results:
• Over 70,000 carbon assessments have been undertaken on farms to date.
• 90% of beef production (around 45,000 farms) is covered by the programme.
• All of Ireland’s dairy farms (25 dairy cooperatives representing 18,000 enterprises) are going through their first audit cycle.
• 380 food and drink manufacturers have signed up.
• Work is extending to the lamb, poultry, pig, and grain industries.
By 2016 all Irish food and drink exports from farms and food businesses, will have verified sustainability commitments ensuring the objective of Ireland becoming a world leader in sustainable food production. It is already well on its way. According to Bord Bia’s Chief Executive, Aidan Cotter, “Interest in the programme from Irish companies has been strong, with 90% of exports now emanating from Origin Green participants and 75% of exports are from fully verified Origin Green members.”
The Origin Green Model
In 2009, Bord Bia conducted a research project that explored the international view of Ireland with regard to sustainability. Building on Ireland’s green reputation, Bord Bia developed Origin Green with three main operational objectives: Farming sustainably from the ground up, improving the efficiency of food processing practices, and positioning Irish producers as among the world’s leading sustainable food and drink suppliers.
Bord Bia initially teamed up with the Carbon Trust in the UK to develop carbon footprint calculation models for beef, dairy, lamb, poultry, and pig production farms. By the end of 2014, almost 45,000 beef farms had been assessed. Close to 18,000 of all of Ireland’s dairy farms will have undertaken a similar assessment by the end of 2015.
It then began to address its first objective by compiling comprehensive sustainability and carbon footprint figures. Farms across the nation are now routinely assessed and data about their farming and animal management practices are logged in a central Bord Bia database via handheld GPS devices. Programme software then measures the carbon footprint of each
farm and uses the data to calculate their relative performance in relation to output levels, grazing season length, fertiliser usage, feed consumption, manure management, and resource use and conservation figures. Each farmer is then provided with advice to see where they can modify practices to improve the sustainability of their enterprises.
For the dairy industry Origin Green developed a Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme that is operated to the ISO 17065 standard. It defines best practices on Irish dairy farms in animal health and welfare, resource efficiency, biosecurity, farming safety, and the production of safe milk.
Sustainable Food Processing
Food and drink manufacturers make their commitment to sustainability via the Origin Green Sustainability Charter. Under the charter, each company devises a comprehensive development plan with ambitious targets related to raw material sourcing, energy use, GHG emissions, waste reduction, water efficiency, product improvement, and employee health and safety. They then report each year on their progress to Origin Green and those figures are independently verified. Industry commitments include: Saving tens of millions of litres of water and millions of kWH of energy per year, reducing landfill waste to close to zero, and encouraging both suppliers and local communities to become more sustainable.
Central to an industry’s credibility in the marketplace are facts and figures to back up claims. With independent verification provided by SGS, a participating food supplier can differentiate its products and better penetrate the export market.
To assist with this objective Origin Green’s Ambassadors, ten carefully chosen masters’ degree students majoring in Business Sustainability, help promote the sustainability of Irish food and drink. Each ambassador studies best practice across a range of sectors in the international marketplace, and shares the experience and messaging of Origin Green through a series of six month placements in some of the top Global influencers in sustainability including Abbott, Coca-Cola, M&S, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo, Tesco, Unilever, WWF and Walmart.
In a December 2014 personal interview, Chief Executive Aidan Cotter clarified that Origin Green does not measure its progress purely in terms of statistical success, but sees it as a ‘journey of continuous improvement.’ This guarantees that the programme will continue well beyond 2016, with goals that grow as the programme grows.
Researched by John Mills
Written by Susette Horspool
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