Earth Day not only presents the opportunity to celebrate environmental protection efforts each year, but it also implores us to take the time to look forward to how we can continue to make even bigger strides for the sake of the environment. This year’s theme for Earth Day is “Investing in our Planet” as we endeavour to wade off the impacts of climate change through meaningful collaboration, and it’s clear the nutraceutical industry has a key role to play.
What’s been happening?
Towards the end of 2021, world leaders came together in Glasgow for COP26 to secure a global net-zero by mid-century and keep a maximum of 1.5c within reach. Alongside this, the IPCC has been releasing climate assessment reports, with the most recent in February 2022 concluding they have “high confidence” that humans are the main drivers of climate change.
Even more recently, the global research firm Innova Market Insights named “Shared Planet” as its top trend for 2022, noting a significant shift among global consumers, who now express more concern for the health of the planet than for their own personal health.
The nutraceutical industry is in a unique position, with the ability to aid consumers in making more sustainable purchasing decisions while they increase their personal health, alleviating any trade-off people believe they have to make.
How is the nutraceutical industry reacting
The current green transitional efforts within the nutraceutical industry, as well as emerging opportunities, can be broken down across the three pillars of corporate sustainability:
The COVID-19 pandemic afforded an unprecedented insight into the supply chain as shortages were rampant across industries and the globe. The health and well-being of those within these supply chains have now been brought into focus alongside those in organisations.
When asked about how nutraceutical companies can best support the sustainable development of people, Chris Kilham (Medicine Hunter Inc.) believes the answer is simple: “Companies simply need to pay more for their raw materials.” When this has happened, he has seen that “thanks to market demand … the difference is these communities now have thriving schools, better nutrition, and more access to medicine.” Such efforts are not only beneficial to those farming the materials but because such practices are now at the forefront of consumers’ minds, bottom lines may not be impacted.
At Kappa Bioscience, “every one of our staff members became climate positive” says Dominik Mattern, vice president, as Kappa offset the entire carbon footprint of its staff including emissions from business and personal travel, holidays, food, and hobbies. Removing the trade-off between being environmentally conscious and employee well-being pays dividends in the form of higher morale and work performance.
Climate change is already tangibly impacting the nutraceutical industry. Kilham noted that heavy rains in India ruined the ashwagandha crop two years ago, causing higher prices, hardship, and disruption; he expects “we will see a lot more of this.”
Solutions need to be developed, and new supply chains from neglected and underutilised crops are an emerging option. Baia created a sustainable supply chain for a novel food ingredient from the West African plant miracle berry. Starting a supply chain from scratch has its advantages, from decreased costs in key areas through better management to shaping it as sustainable from the start as opposed to shifting an existing, rigid system.
Out-of-the-box thinking is also critical, with research by Priyadarshini, Tiwari, and Rajauria (2022, DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/pr10030445) assessing the environmental and economic sustainability of functional food ingredient production providing one example of this. They found that an ultrasound-assisted extraction (UAE) of functional food ingredients from seaweed had considerably lower impacts than the conventional method as well as having a lower cost of manufacturing – showing how novel methods provide an opportunity to not only lessen the financial impact of ingredient production but also the environmental impact too, easing the burden on the planet.
There is often a misconception that adopting more sustainable practices costs more money. Although this may be true in the immediate short term, things can be done to combat this. The UK is set to reward green fertilising as costs surge for gas-dependent, traditional fertilisers.
When looking at the long-term benefits, “sustainability … reduces business costs, adds on with more innovative strategies, improves reputation and brings new customers who value sustainability and a greener environment,” says Dr Benny Antony (Arjuna Natural, joint managing director).
Further, environmental labelling will be mandatory in 2022 in Europe, with Julie Imperato, communications manager at Nexira, noting, “if a company does nothing, they will have a non-attractive label, being noted with a low environmental score. No doubt, consumers will make their choice.”
The equation appears quite simple: the more sustainable your brand is and the more you communicate this to consumers and employees, the more consumers will look to your product and the more talent you will retain.