Working with Edge Environment, KFC Australia are partnering with some of their largest suppliers to undertake a Farm to Fork study, identifying the environmental and social hotspots in their business and uncovering the opportunities for improvement and partnership.
Approaching the project, there have been many questions: How sustainable is the fast food industry? Can we benchmark fast food against home cooked meals? Can we benchmark fast food meals against each other to understand if there are better or worse fast food options? Where do we start, and what metrics do we use? Can this be measured at all?
However, before we answer the fundamental question, Can fast food be sustainable?, we first need to establish “What is sustainable food?”.
This is a broad topic, and most of us probably have an opinion about what we think is or isn’t sustainable. For example:
- Is the food healthy for us?
- How the farm animals have been treated?
- Have the workers producing the food have been treated fairly?
- Have the crops been grown with pesticides or genetic modification?
- Was ecologically valuable land was cleared to make room for the crops and livestock used in the product?
- How much water/carbon/energy/waste is embodied in its production?
In other words, we have to look across a broad range of issues, for which many the measurement sciences and public opinions are still forming. The premise for the KFC led Farm to Fork project is that even if we can’t do it perfectly, we have to find a common way to measure our impacts in order to work together to reduce them.
The starting point is to use life cycle assessment (LCA), the leading method for the evaluation of the potential environmental impacts connected with a product, process or service. LCA is emerging for social impacts and risks as well through the Social Hotspot Database and the UNEP Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products. However, LCA and measurement science is not going to be enough to cover issues such as animal welfare or the risks and perceptions of GMOs. We need to measure what we can, but adapt to supplier and location specific conditions while screening broader sustainability issues in order to get the full picture. Not everything is going to be as (relatively) neat and scientific as measuring life cycle carbon and energy.
The Farm to Fork project kicked off in mid-2014 and is expected to be complete by mid 2015. We expect a number of key outcomes from the project, including an in-depth understanding of the key impacts, risks and issues in:
- Sourcing chicken, oil and energy to fry nuggets.
- Sourcing wheat from farmers to the buns and batter for the meals.
- Extracting the bauxite and smelting the aluminium used in cans, fridges and offsets from in-store recycling programs.
This will provide the focus and direction for the Farm to Fork group to prioritise and focus on the big-ticket items and to understand where they have common issues to address, or opportunities to exploit.
Benchmarking will provide the group with an understanding of their potential strengths and weaknesses compared with alternative meals. How sustainable is chicken compared with other animal or even vegetable proteins. This is unlikely to provide clear-cut answer as this depends on “what” you’re actually comparing, if it’s per calorie, per gram of protein, etc.
However, most importantly, the Farm to Fork project will help KFC Australia and their suppliers to be proactive in developing a long-term strategy, in their approach to sustainability.
Edge Environment are the independent sustainability and LCA consultant for the Farm to Fork project.