Trending in 2022: How do you meet the sustainability goals in a factory?


The trend that Aart-Jan Smit sees for next year, but also in the long term, is that sustainability in the broadest sense of the word will resonate in the food industry. “All organizations are now really aware of the urgency of the global sustainability goals. How and to what extent they will implement them will become clear.”

The broad concept of sustainability that Smit refers to ranges from start-ups with their sustainable product and factory designs to multinationals that want to produce greener. “But we also guide medium-sized factories with the creation of a so-called sustainable master plan, in which we put their sustainability goals next to the financial picture.”


The industry has many demands to meet

Smit is Sales Manager Food & Pharma at engineering firm Bilfinger Tebodin and briefly outlines what the industry is currently facing: “Organizations must take into account the current guidelines for sustainable operations, environmental laws and regulations and the sustainability goals for 2030 and 2050. CO2 emissions must be as minimal as possible and production must be as energy efficient as possible. Many companies in the food industry do not have the knowledge and specialists in house to organize this properly, then a bit of support in the area of consultancy and engineering is usually necessary.”

Sustainability can also be in the products that leave the factories. According to Smit, in the next few years in the food industry we will see exponential growth in the meat and dairy replacement industry, companies making meat, milk and cheese without animals, honey without a bee, egg without chicken and also all new raw materials to make the texture and taste experience of the alternative products better. You see the larger companies making acquisitions or looking for a good strategic partner to also have a meat or dairy alternative range. They are doing that to avoid being overtaken in five years by today’s start-ups.”

“Start-ups like sustainability”

Smit continues: “If you look at start-ups, you see that they quickly embrace sustainability, they like to be involved in sustainable production. But all the legislation and regulations, subsidies and everything involved in scaling up production also requires knowledge of other disciplines. Bilfinger Tebodin helps start-ups to scale up. Because how do you do that hygienically, according to the EHEDG guidelines, how do you build a building around it, how do you ensure a good logistics flow, how do you ensure that the raw materials are treated properly and do not come into contact with other substances, how do you ensure good end products, how can you package them? In short, many questions that the tech developer needs help with. With sustainability always in mind, you can arrive at a well-designed and energy-efficient factory.”

From laboratory to full-scale factory

In addition to technical and design advice, Bilfinger Tebodin can also support start-ups in creating a business model: “After the start-up, the demo plant comes with a slightly larger capacity and ultimately the goal is to build a full-scale factory that runs at full capacity. Start-ups often have big plans for a demo plant; they want to scale up quickly. That’s where the challenges lie. What can help here is reverse cost estimating. Map out how many units the plant has to produce annually and what the selling price per unit can be. Then look at the price of raw materials, operational costs and utilities such as water and electricity. Use the remaining annual amount for depreciation of the investment. With a choice of desired payback period in years, the maximum investment can be determined.”

By estimating the useful production hours per year, the capacity of the equipment can be estimated, and cost calculation techniques can be used to determine fairly quickly whether the installation is achievable within the maximum amount. This approach requires considerably less engineering to arrive at an initial estimate.

Smit: “So if the client thinks about sustainability at an early stage and places the business plan and the financial feasibility alongside it, it will result in cost savings in the end. Especially if you immediately include the sustainable development goals in a sustainable design. It is easier to scale up production in the future if it has been thought about at the beginning.”

Energy scan at existing factories

“Existing manufacturers can either map out themselves where their biggest energy consumption is or we can do a scan. This allows us to see what we can improve and what the quick wins are. On the basis of this, we draw up a sustainable master plan. In the master plan, we put the sustainability goals on a timeline and then we put the sustainable projects and related costs next to that. This gives a clear overview of the planning and the investment required to achieve the sustainability goals. Of course, we can then also guide them to actually implement it.

Energy transition remains important

What does the future look like according to Smit? “The energy transition will remain very important in the coming years, such as CO2 reduction, reduction in the use of gas, electrification and the generation of sustainable energy such as hydrogen. How companies will deal with it differs, but the awareness that something needs to happen is quite high in the Netherlands.

Smit concludes: “Keep sustainability in the back of your mind in everything you do, in addition, think early on about issues that will come into play later. This can influence the plans and choices you make. Call in the help of a specialist at an early stage if you don’t have the knowledge or experience in house.”