Responsible Food Industry Companies: How Climate-Smart Actions are Taken into Consideration in the Food Sector?

Responsibility has been a central topic of discussion in many industries in recent years. The terminology related to responsibility is diverse, and many terms related to responsibility don't have clear equivalents in Finnish language. In the food industry, a key perspective that can be highlighted is "climate-smart", which in Finnish is "ilmastoviisas". Food industry companies are hoped for, expected, and in the future, increasingly demanded to act in a climate-smart manner. Therefore, it is worth get to know this topic in more detail.
nainen pakkaa elintarvikkeita muovirasioihin

Climate-smartly produced food can mean different things in different operational environments. Thus, climate-smartness doesn't necessarily mean the same thing in the Nordic countries as it might in, for example, in Southern Europe. Food industry companies operating in the northern regions face their own challenges related to climate-smartness, such as environmental weather conditions and long distances. On the other hand, their advantages include the purity of the food and the systematic nature of their operational environment. Many food industry companies either do not consider or still inadequately consider climate-smartness in their business, which could potentially lead to obstacles in these companies’ growth. To develop climate-smartness, companies must first understand what climate-smart business is and what it requires both internally and externally from the companies.

What are the goals of climate-smart business?

The responsibility and climate goals in the food industry are largely based on climate objectives set for agriculture, which stem from guidelines formulated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). According to FAO's guidelines, a business is climate-smart if it considers the economic, social, and environmental aspects in its operations:

  • Economic aspect = Operations are profitable for the company and its stakeholders, generating economic well-being for the surrounding society as well. Factors increasing profitability include operational efficiency and generated profits.
  • Social aspect = Operations create social value for the company, its stakeholders, and the surrounding society. Social value includes improving employee well-being and competence, as well as enhancing cooperation relationships.
  • Environmental aspect = Operations help reduce the use of natural resources (water, soil, air, and biodiversity) within the company, its stakeholders, and the surrounding society.

How to act in a climate-smart manner?

Companies involved in the food supply chain, from raw material transformation to the production of food products, can be broadly categorized as producers, processors, catering services, retailers, distributors, and wholesalers. Among these, producers (such as potato farmers) and processors (those transforming raw materials or their derivatives, like manufacturers of mashed potatoes) have a significant impact on the food production process. The climate-smartness of the production of processed food must be evaluated across the entire food supply chain, as both actions that support and undermine the climate-smartness of food occur throughout the supply chain, including raw material production, processing, transportation, and storage.

When developing climate-smart practices, a company should not only understand the environmental impacts of its internal actions but also the climate-smartness of its own operations and those of other companies in the food supply chain. To comprehend the internal climate-smartness, a company must assess the economic, social, and environmental perspectives of its processes. Similarly, to understand climate-smartness across the supply chain, a company must evaluate its processes' effects on other supply chain stakeholders and the impact of these stakeholders' processes on its own operations.

Comprehensive assessment of climate-smartness can be challenging, particularly in more complex and multi-stage processing. However, various useful assessment models exist for internal and supply chain-level climate-smartness evaluation, which can facilitate the assessment of climate-smartness. We aim to provide these models and other valuable tools and resources as part of the Climate-Food project workshops (more information below).

Climate-Food Project: Support and Opportunities for Climate Actions for the Food Industry in Northern Finland and Sweden

Climate-Food is a project managed by ProAgria Oulu, which aims to promote climate-smart business activities throughout the food production chain in the Northern Finland and Northern Sweden. As part of the project, we will create an overview of the current state of climate-smartness among small and medium-sized food companies in Northern Finland and Northern Sweden. We will also organize cross-border workshops for food industry companies, allowing them to learn about new climate-smart practices and network with other food industry players.

For more information about the project, visit the official website: The project is managed by ProAgria Oulu and executed by Oulun Maa- ja kotitalousnaiset. Co-implementers include Luleå tekniska universitet, University of Oulu (Kerttu Saalasti Institute), Hushållningssällskapet i Norrbotten-Västerbotten, and Lapland University of Applied Sciences. The project is funded by the Interreg Aurora program.

Author: Peetu Virkkala, MScEng, Doctoral Researcher, Kerttu Saalasti Institute, University of Oulu