6 August 2019
By The KLH Team

Top 9 Ideas for a more Sustainable Food Factory Part 2

This article follows on from last week where a range of ideas were presented for reducing the carbon footprint of food production facilities. The second instalment of the two-part post focuses on sustainability ideas that are often overlooked in factories and would typically not be considered a priority but are quickly on the rise as industry differentiators.


5. Design for future factory expansion, product adaptability and facility flexibility


Due to the value of assets and bespoke nature of production, factories are typically owned and operated over a long lifetime. It is therefore in the best interest of the organisation to futureproof the facility to be able to respond to changing customer demands, including factory expansion, product adaptations or future regulations e.g. packaging restrictions.


Avoiding functional obsolescence requires careful planning and holistic decision making in the very early design stages.


Most importantly, all ‘permanent’ factory elements which are expected to remain over its entire lifetime and not require replacement – foundations and structural frame – should be designed to accommodate potential future loadings, equipment replacement and factory expansion.


Designing-in the ability to expand in the future not only means leaving the necessary space on the site, but also means selecting façade systems which can be easily removed and reused post expansion and potentially designing-in extra capacity at structural connection points to reduce the need for structural reinforcing post expansion. Designing for future expansion requires keeping good records of the structural capacity, materiality and as-built design. Material passport software such as “Buildings as Material Banks” or “Madaster” can be integrated into the project BIM model to record all construction information necessary to enable future low impact renovation or deconstruction.


6. People-focused factories – health and wellbeing of employees

Factories are typically perceived as sterile, dismal, equipment-focused facilities with little consideration for the people who work in them and with the rise of robotics and automation in the food industry, the number of factory workers, in particular with repetitive, low-skilled roles have reduced. However, in a modern food factory, you will still find essential roles such as engineers, quality control technicians, logistics coordinators, cleaners, packers and forklift drivers.


The remote, often noisy and low-employee density of food factory operations makes it even more important to incorporate quiet “oases” within the design of a factory. Providing wellness areas with access to daylight and views out, amenity spaces and a canteen offering healthy food options for employee use, supports informal interaction between employees, thereby promoting a sense of community and improving productivity.


Even seemingly small things like ensuring factory and office staff use the same entrance on a daily basis can have a significant impact on employee health and happiness


7. Water footprinting


As with the factory energy profile, the vast majority of factories’ water demand is driven by the process operations. Unlike the term carbon footprint, water footprint is still a relatively new concept, and one which is possibly more challenging to quantify and tackle than a carbon footprint, as the impact of any water use will vary, depending on the local availability of freshwater. Common water-hungry factory processes including cleaning of distribution lines and processing equipment, transportation of easily bruising food, and continuous water cooling of equipment. Opportunities to reduce water demand in the first instance include ice pigging to clean the inside of pipes and tubing. Ice-pigging helps reduce the use of harmful cleaning fluids, requires less water than standard pigging, saves time, improves process efficiency and ultimately increases profits.


A strategy for the local treatment and recycling that considers both the output quality of used water and the input water quality parameters can enable water reuse without excessive, energy intensive treatment and reduce loading on the local sewage system.


8. Circular Economy


The Circular Economy is a sustainability headline on the rise across many industries, as businesses are looking to address the systemic issues behind our current linear economy, based on a “take, make, waste” mentality. For the built environment, this means creating regenerative building designs that prioritise adaptability and the reuse of waste materials and components, while stimulating the local economy and creating new industries in the process. Some of the key themes which can be applied to the food production industry are: avoiding the use of composite, non-recyclable, or virgin materials, identifying local recycling routes and engaging with the supply chain to promote packaging reuse or development of take back schemes.


9. Employee transportation


Factories can be located in remote areas with limited access to sustainable transportation options, meaning employees and visitors access factories via single-person vehicles. Following assessment of the surrounding transport infrastructure and the existing barriers to using sustainable transportation, food factories can be designed to accommodate and promote the use of alternative transport. For example, by designing safe access routes for bicycles, providing electric vehicle charging stations or running a shuttle from the nearest public transport link, factory infrastructure can support the use of sustainable transport. Additionally, by promoting active travel via incentives such as a cycle to work scheme or a carpooling points system, a factory can reduce the number of vehicles on the road, thereby reducing congestion, carbon emissions and improving air quality.

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