Navigating the choppy seas of global sustainability regulation

Regulation is the principal tool that will guide foodservice towards a more sustainable future, but it is hard to keep pace with and potentially costly if compliance efforts are insufficient. Jim Banks looks at the changing global landscape, comparing different approaches to regulation, and asks consultants about their challenging role in keeping clients compliant

The one constant factor in regulation is that it is always changing. Charting the changes in environmental legislation over the years it becomes clear that standards are constantly rising, potential penalties are becoming stiffer, and the scope of new rules is growing wider all the time.

As regulation becomes more complex and the cost of compliance increases, foodservice operators are at pains to ensure they keep pace with changes and meet new standards, though different rules apply in different regions around the world. What is socially acceptable in one country may be entirely illegal in another, so any global brand must be fully aware of regional variations.

“It is a challenge to bring users up to speed with the changes in regulations, and another bigger challenge when a local authority introduces sweeping changes into a region, such as removing gas, using only electric appliances, then finding local power infrastructure is unable to cope with increased base load demands,” says John C W Thomas FCSI, director, Sangster Design Group in Sydney, Australia.

“Regulation is the stick and there is certainly a need for the stick, but I think that the current generation – and the previous two to some extent – have also been pushing it, voicing their concerns about climate change and saying it is important to them,” says Pamela Eaton FCSI at US consultancy NGAssociates.

“Then there is always the fact that EnergyStar has been slow to come into the commercial foodservice market. Equipment choice often comes down to whether people buy based on return on investment over the long term rather than upfront capital cost.”

Remarkable differences between regions

Introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Star certification has been around for more than 20 years in the US, and it has become the recognized symbol for energy efficiency. It allows businesses to make decisions on appliances that deliver cost-saving energy efficiency solutions. Though efficient devices may be more expensive in terms of upfront cost, their return on investment (ROI) over the long term results in significant savings, as well as lower emissions.

In the US, however, local regulations vary greatly. California, for example, is moving towards specifying all-electric commercial kitchens. Similar measures are coming into effect in New York, where all-electric heating and cooking in new buildings shorter than seven stories will be required by 2026.

In the European Union, extensive ‘Farm to fork’ regulations will shape food systems going forward, as will more stringent sustainability disclosure requirements, and rules that will evolve to help the region meet its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), covering everything from resource efficiency to hunger and wealth inequality.

A useful guide to the effectiveness of sustainability regulations around the world is the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which provides a data-driven summary of the state of sustainability around the world. Using 40 performance indicators across 11 issue categories, the EPI ranks 180 countries on climate change performance, environmental health, and ecosystem vitality.

Denmark, the UK, Finland, Malta and Sweden take the top five spots in the ranking, while Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and India occupy the bottom five places. “In the EPI, European nations make up 23 out of the first 24 nations with Australia in 17th place,” notes Thomas, who is based in New South Wales. “European regulations are world-leading, and well advanced in terms of sustainable management of resources. Japan and New Zealand are also 25th and 26th respectively.”

“It appears that where there is centralized agreement, there is a correspondingly higher ranking,” he adds. “In the USA, for example, where there are many regional authorities, the level of sustainability regulations – and the priority given to them – vary from state to state. It is, therefore, no great surprise that the USA is 43rd in the world in the EPI.”

A mixed picture in APAC

In the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, there are some outstanding performers such as Australia, where environmental legislation and energy transition have been high on the agenda. Nevertheless, there are very different regimes of sustainability regulation between different nations. In the foodservice sector, some countries are still big on live fire cooking, while others think it is unsustainable and are, therefore, looking for alternatives, though a recent report by GlobalData, the region’s foodservice sector is turning towards local sourcing, waste reduction, and more plant-based options to meet the demand for sustainability.

The Singapore Green Plan 2030, a whole-of-nation movement to advance the country’s national agenda on sustainable development, is an example of a forward-looking regulatory regime that will shape everything from renewable energy generation to the creation of super-low energy buildings.

India – currently the worst performing country on the EPI – has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2070, and its Green Tax Incentives and Rebates program aims to encourage individuals and companies to adopt more sustainable practices and reduce their environmental impact. Food waste in India’s restaurant business is also a major problem, so there are moves under way to prevent, recover, recycle, and more efficiently dispose of waste food. Currently, however, the country lacks a national policy or strategy for reducing food loss and waste, and there are no laws and regulations that limit or prohibit it. “I think incentives would be good if every country were to use them,” says FCSI Associate Mildred Famero, principal design consultant at Eminent Consultancy, which has offices in Singapore and the Philippines.

“They help businesses to think more about energy efficiency, and provide support from the government. Grants are always very helpful to businesses, but it depends on the government mindset, which may see sustainability as less important than other issues, particularly economic growth.”

“But there should be no doubt – climate change is very real,” she adds. “Here in the Philippines the typhoon season is getting longer and rain is coming every month, but people are not acting on it. Here, there is no regulation and everything is up to the owner. In Singapore and India there are rules that encourage owners to have efficient technology, and grants of money if they use sustainable equipment. There are rewards for being sustainable, and I’m hoping every country will follow suit.”

In some countries, notably those in Asia, cultural differences can be important, as food serves different roles in societies across the region and plays a different role in everyday life.

“Cultural factors can – and do – play a significant role, as does the status of a nation’s development,” says Thomas. “An emerging or poorer nation may prioritize other items to take precedence before environmental sustainability. Multiple authorities across a single nation and/or poorly defined boundaries could be also said to be cultural factors.”

Consultants provide consistency

Amid the maze of global regulation, it is up to consultants to provide a roadmap that ensures compliance and keeps clients ahead of how regulation may evolve. “It is a big challenge to keep up with regulations – especially for companies that don’t do this for a living, like hotels, or people with their first commercial kitchen,” says Kip Serfozo FCSI, design director at US consultancy Cini Little.

“Big chains see the changes coming. A lot depends on culture and the sustainability policies a business has in place, but someone has to keep their finger on the pulse of regulatory change.”

For many businesses, the person with their finger on the pulse will be a foodservice consultant.

Jim Banks

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