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How do we improve environmental performance, develop better relationships with stakeholders, and lower risks?
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the answers to all of these questions are one and the same: incorporate sustainable practices.
Simply stated, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
So says Our Common Future, a landmark document also known as the Brundtland Report.
Published in October 1987 by the Brundtland Commission, an independent entity launched in the fall of 1984 at the request of the United Nations, this revered document coined and defined the meaning of the term “sustainable development” that continues to be universally embraced today.
Sustainable development seems more critical than ever before, especially since the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that citizens of planet Earth will need to increase global food production by 60 percent by 2050 to feed a population that will top the mind-boggling nine billion mark.
Speaking at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture held in Berlin, Germany in January this year, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva emphasized that, to address the challenge of feeding more people while using less land, water and energy, concerted efforts and investments are needed to support a widespread, globe-spanning transition to sustainable farming systems and land management practices.
Food processing is typically the second largest source of environmental impact from food and beverage products, after agriculture, according to Food Manufacturing (FM). Moreover, FM reports that food processing accounts for 25 percent of all water consumption worldwide and 50 percent to 80 percent of all water used in industrial countries. Additionally, an estimated seven percent of the food supply is wasted at the point of processing, FM notes.
Clearly, in all components of the food chain, a comprehensive approach to sustainability focuses on the interdependent nature of a robust natural environment, fiscally responsible economy and a vibrant equitable community. Such an approach recognizes that the wellbeing of human systems is supported by a healthy environment and that future generations have an equal claim on our planet’s resources.
Strong Consumer Interest
A 2010 national Capstrat-Public Policy Polling survey found that 59 percent of consumers consider products’ environmental sustainability to be very important in their buying decisions.
And 56 percent of the survey respondents noted they would pay “a little” to “significantly” more for a product that was environmentally friendly.
For many consumers, sustainability is no longer just “nice to have” but is instead a critical differentiator, according to a 2010 UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study. Furthermore, the report says, “as consumer awareness of sustainability issues increases, companies are being held to a higher standard, and being asked to demonstrate the wider impact of their operations.”
So not surprisingly, some 93 percent of CEOs believe that sustainability issues will be critical to the future success of their business, and 88 percent of CEOs believe that they should be integrating sustainability through their supply chain, the study reports. “The speed and ease of information sharing by consumers across social networking platforms has raised the transparency of business operations,” the study continues, stating that, “more than ever, businesses see the urgency of truly ‘living the brand,’ extending their brand values throughout their operations.”
Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestlé S.A., is quoted in the study as saying “consumers are asking who is behind the brand, so we have to make it visible.” According to the study, “Nestlé is tackling this issue head-on by using social media channels to inform and engage its stakeholders on environmental and social activities.”