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Integrated Sustainable Thinking: A Critical Necessity for Food Companies

By Arabella Bakker, Director, Consultancy and Communications, Salterbaxter MSLGROUP

Business has been addressing sustainability issues for a number of years but there is still some way to go before many organisations can say they are fully integrating sustainable considerations into every aspect of their business strategy, plans, corporate and brand purpose.

In the food sector, an embedded approach to sustainability is becoming more and more pressing. Global mega forces including food security, water scarcity, climate change and population growth are changing the way business and the world operates. Sustainable thinking is becoming a necessity for business within the food industry.

With the articulation of global ambition through mechanisms such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the contribution food companies are expected to make towards a sustainable future is clear. , ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’, is directly reliant on food companies stepping up and treating sustainability with strategic importance. SDG goal 2 58 Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value addresses sustainability across the value chain.

Food companies need to consider a holistic view of sustainability

Integrated Sustainable Thinking 02Not tackling sustainability as a business imperative is a risk to competitive advantage, security of supply, business agility and the ability to attract and retain both customers and employees. Food companies need to consider a holistic view of sustainability. Climate change, food security, health and waste are great issues of our time and require a wholesale approach to tackle them. These need to be considered across the entire business and within all decision-making processes, not as isolated concerns.

Food companies need to consider sustainability impacts across the entire value chain

Often, agricultural impacts in the supply chain are the most material issue for a food business. Not tackling supply chain issues will result in a lack of agility. However, focusing on positive impacts such as supporting capacity building with small holder farmers, investing in women-led agricultural enterprises, sourcing food crops sustainably and tackling the fuel and food debate are opportunities for reputational, as well as operational, benefits. Being a trusted partner delivers value to the business and to society.

Integrated Sustainable Thinking 01Food companies need to look at consumers’ growing sustainability expectations from them

At the other end of the value chain the sustainability expectations consumers have of business are growing. Consumers, to an extent, currently expect food companies to deal with sustainability issues so they do not have to worry about them. However, how sustainability feeds into consumer buying decisions is likely to change in the future. Consumer awareness is already growing on issues such as provenance, healthy eating and waste. This is set to continue and hence the actions companies take and communicate will be increasingly important.

Food companies can show leadership by proactively educating and supporting consumers in making sustainable choices. They can drive campaigns and advance solutions to issues such as crop management, food waste, sustainable and nutritious foods and sustainable living.

Sustainability is a business priority for food companies and they need to engage with all of their stakeholders on these issues, from consumers to regulators. Integrated thinking is critical today to secure food for all tomorrow.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s report The Future of Food Communications: Winning Share of Mouth in the Conversation Age.

Arabella Bakker - Salterbaxter MSLGROUPArabella is a Corporate Responsibility specialist who is experienced in working with C-suite executives to develop strategies that support business objectives, drive positive social impact, strengthen corporate culture and advance reputation. She has worked for leading brands within the consumer products, financial services and consulting sectors, including Samsung Electronics, PUMA, Microsoft Xbox and Sainsbury’s. Connect with her on Twitter @Belautel.

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