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  May 31st, 2024 | Written by

Why Sustainable Cold Chains Are the Future of Global Food Transport

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Global food transport is a significant problem. And no, that problem isn’t necessarily fragmentation, although supply chain fragmentation has caused many a budget balancer to suddenly get a headache. No, the issue we’re going to cover here today is global food transport’s relationship with sustainability – or rather, its lack thereof. 

Read also: Adapting to Climate Change Challenges in the Cold Chain

The doomsday scenarios associated with the coming climate crisis are no longer far off, as regions in the U.S. have suffered the disastrous effects of amplified severe weather. And unless action is taken, it will only get worse: the World Economic Forum projects that by 2025, economies worldwide will suffer 12.5 trillion dollars in losses, and that over 2 billion healthy life years will be lost.

So why are we talking about climate change in conjunction with global food transport? Well, because the food industry is responsible for one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The massive carbon footprint left by the food industry is a cause for concern on its own; never mind the average 30-40% of goods the industry loses regularly. 

Put simply, the food transportation industry has an impetus to pursue sustainability – and not just for an abstract goal of being future-proof, but for mitigating losses today. In this piece, we’ll take a look at sustainable cold chains as a solution, showcasing how they resolve pain points in the present, while also setting your organization up for a bright future. 

Understanding the Impact on Globalized Food Chains

Before outlining the solution, we have to understand how climate change is affecting cold chains today. Cold chains are temperature-supported supply shipments that are highly utilized in food transportation, as they allow goods to be stored at the proper temperatures while shipped. 

Globalized supply chains unlock greater food diversity and availability, connecting international markets and driving trade efficiency. Part of the reason they can do these things is cold chains, as cold chain technology helps preserve goods during long journeys. 

However, even the most advanced cold chain solutions have stress tolerance limits; limits that will be increasingly put to the test as climate change continues to occur. Heat waves can push refrigeration technology to the point of shutdown, and delays in shipping caused by flooding, blizzards, or any other natural disaster can cause the technology to work longer and harder. 

Moreover, cold chain technology can also contribute greatly to energy expenditure. Research shows that over 44% of food transport’s energy consumption ties back to cooling technology; though it also shows that costs can be severely cut if organizations replace inefficient models with new systems. 

To sum up, food transport organizations must find ways to optimize their cold chain technology’s output, while also cutting back on resource consumption.

The Role of Renewable Energy 

One means of addressing both challenges is investing in and incorporating renewable energy sources into your supply chain. Solar and wind power can replace limited, fossil-fuel-reliant energy sources with stable, reliable sources of power, provided organizations have the grid infrastructure to support renewables. In cases where renewable resources have been integrated into city infrastructure, for example, intermittent supply can be problematic; something that supply chain organizations can insulate against by leveraging adequately supportive frameworks.

But how? Well, firstly, renewable resources are typically more efficient than their fossil-fuel counterparts. As companies invest in solar power, wind turbines, and other renewable energy techniques, they’ll find that their overall power expenditure goes down over time. Combined with Internet-of-Things-powered smart temperature controls, organizations can make sure their systems are only using the energy they need; no more, no less.

Investing in renewable energy also allows organizations to align themselves with sustainability best practices, cutting down on their carbon footprint while simultaneously gaining a strong selling point with eco-conscious consumers. 

Reducing the Carbon Footprint

Another avenue you can take is investing in energy-efficient technologies throughout your cold chain. Replacing old, inefficient technologies that create a lot of leakage might slash your overall impact overnight.

AI and IoT sensors can also have a positive impact on your carbon footprint, allowing your systems to predict and respond to shifts in climate without any wasted energy. AI also provides route optimization functionality, aggregating and analyzing weather pattern data to recommend a route with minimal disruption. 

You can even take a deeper dive, looking into the specific coolants used to fuel your refrigeration systems. Natural refrigerants have a net zero climate impact; switching your current refrigerant with a natural variant may have a significant impact on its own. 

While there will always be hiccups, disruptions, and a degree of waste, you have the ability to take control of your output and optimize your processes by choosing a sustainable supply chain. This can help you position your company for more