Sustainability Pressure Intensifies

Climate change, food waste, greenhouse gas emissions, working conditions – the sustainability issues affecting the food system seem to increase in number and complexity daily. 

As pressure intensifies, farmers and food companies find themselves trying to balance multiple and sometimes conflicting goals. How can we feed a growing global population without impacting the environment? How should food companies respond to demands on issues as diverse as worker care to greenhouse gas emissions? How do we continue providing affordable, healthy food for all, while investing in new approaches and technologies that address sustainability expectations? 

Defining Sustainability 

At its core, sustainability has three dimensions: social, economic and environmental. Individual companies, sectors and the food system as a whole, must balance all three components to thrive. 

Sustainability is not a single issue; it is a collection of forces that are shaping society and our world. We have identified more than 250 separate attributes of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. These forces have intensified in recent years with the COVID-19 pandemic pushing new issues to the forefront. 

The crisis caused consumers to give much more thought to where their food comes from than ever before. As they studied the food system in the early days of the pandemic, they saw images that disturbed them. Milk and vegetables destroyed for lack of market. Neighbors lined up for miles to receive food assistance. Workers in food processing and retail vulnerable to the virus.  

As a result, sustainability has shifted in focus and intensity. Human health and well-being is a top priority for consumers, encompassing everything from food insecurity to food waste and from wages to racial justice in the workplace. Environmental concerns zoom in on specific agricultural practices, such as crop protection chemicals, the carbon footprint of animal agriculture and food distribution systems. 

More on this topic: Sustainability Starts with Consumers and Sustainability Key to Profitability

Why It Matters 

To maintain its social license to operate, today’s food system must proactively and transparently address sustainability to maintain consumer trust. 

Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) performance is a priority for a growing number of stakeholders – consumers, investors and employees. It is no surprise that sustainability – in all its forms – occupies the minds of CEOs more than any other single topic, according to Consumer Brands Association. More than 9-in-10 leaders of consumer package goods firms estimate they spend more time on sustainability issues today than they did five years ago.  

Sustainability plays an increasingly important role in purchasing decisions, particularly among younger consumers. Three-quarters of consumers say they are willing to change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact. Millennials are far more likely to be sustainably minded than their older cohorts, with 90% of this important demographic willing to pay more for sustainable brands. It is even more significant for Gen Z, Nielsen research shows. 

Look to the Future 

The decisions and communication facing agriculture and food organizations around sustainability are increasingly challenging. There will be competing priorities​, incomplete information, growing interest and demands for action. The decision-making process needs to be consistent, easily explained and flexible enough to respond to new information. Engaging stakeholders in the process helps to build support. 

Look East’s experience in sustainability enables us to be a trusted partner for organizations seeking to develop or update their sustainability strategy and communications, in a way that meets the needs of today while being adaptable to evolve with future expectations.