When writing the sustainability report that you’ll find in this issue, I ran out of space. There is such a boom in sustainability work in the food industry that truly giving the subject its due in a single feature is impossible. Since I finished writing, bakingbusiness.com has been bursting with new stories of sustainability commitments made by the largest companies in the agri-food sector. Nestle, Vevey, Switzerland, plans to invest $1.3 billion in regenerative agriculture. Cargill is enrolling farmers in a new regenerative agriculture program that pays them for improving soil health. And PepsiCo, Purchase, NY, launched its Pep+ initiative which sets new goals toward positive agriculture, value chain and choices. 

“Pep+ is the future of our company — a fundamental transformation of what we do and how we do it to create growth and shared value with sustainability and human capital at the center,” said Ramon Laguarta, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, in the company’s announcement. “It reflects a new business reality, where consumers are becoming more interested in the future of the planet and society.”

Sustainability is not new to the baking industry. Bakers have long been finding ways to save on energy costs and reduce water usage. What has changed is that sustainability is no longer optional for companies to pursue. Millennials and Generation Z demand companies do better by the planet and people, and that’s requiring food companies to go beyond energy management and look at their entire value chain through a green lens.  

“The onus is on the company,” said Siobhan Kelly, agribusiness economist, food systems and safety division, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “There’s a cost and a weight, but that way of thinking is misplaced. Those more progressive companies that are using sustainability to pivot their business models are growing exponentially because of younger food consumers.” 

In my conversation with Ms. Kelly, she also pointed out that sustainability is a long journey, one without a defined finish line. There will always be new targets to set and incremental changes to make, which sounds a lot like the continuous improvement we see in bakeries all the time. 

“All good sustainability programs are rooted in a philosophy of continuous improvement,” said Margaret Ann Marsh, vice president, sustainability and environmental, Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga. “Inherent in this thinking is an evolution of our approach to include current trends, best practices and technology.” 

As we watch sustainability initiatives evolve to meet more aggressive goals and expand to include more links in the value chain, we see those same principles of continuous improvement come into play. Where else can we save energy and water? How else can we support our workers? What new technology can help us eliminate branded litter? Where else can bakers make a difference? 

Which is the key question as you’ll see in my feature: Where can your company have the biggest impact, and what’s your plan to make it happen? Ms. Marsh of Flowers says getting sustainability right requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, a coordinated attack, if you will, between departments with everyone on board. But if the headlines on bakingbusiness.com are any indication, you already knew that.