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Everything sustainable? What's behind the trending term sustainability and why it matters in food.

Everything needs to be sustainable nowadays. Sustainable energy, sustainable clothes, sustainable food. It is like the world has got caught on on a new paradigm which suggests that all we do needs to be sustainable to some extent, otherwise we harm the environment and become sinners and a threat to a climate-neutral future.

But what is behind the hype and should we follow blindly?

Let's clarify some terminologies first:


What does sustainability actually mean and why is it such a hype now?

According to acclaimed international organizations such as the OECD, sustainability refers to the "use of the biosphere by present generations while maintaining its potential benefit for future generations".

Also, sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In addition to natural resources, we also obviously also need social and economic resources. Thus, sustainability is not some fancy environment-related term, but it is actually deeply concerned with social equality and economic development with the aim of benefitting everyone involved.

The concept has historically political roots in social justice and conservationist movements and got particular attention ever since the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1983, run by the United Nations, when Norwegian prime minister Brundtland addressed the paradox that despite efforts to raise living standards through industrialization, many countries were still dealing with extreme poverty. Economic development seemed to have come at the cost of ecological health and social equity, thus, was not long-lasting. This was a major point of awareness that things had to change.

Thus, sustainability entails three major aspects:

  1. Ecological: The maintainment of ecological integrity and the use of natural resources by humans is kept at a balance and rate at which they can replenish themselves

  2. Economic: Communities around the world need to have access to resources (including financial resources) and create secure sources of livelihood.

  3. Social: Basic necessities should be attainable for all people in order to keep their families and communities healthy and secure.

What are the major global sustainability targets?

Every concept needs its aim to achieve, so does sustainability. As learned from the previous paragraph, sustainability touches upon a variety of topics from the 3 major pillars environment, economy and social.

The objectives regarding those pillars can thereby also be divided by topic:

  1. Ecological: One major goal is carbon neutrality (often also called "net-zero"). This goal entails the reduction of CO2-emissions in the environment, a major factor of global warming. The ambitious goal by the European Union is to reduce the levels by 55% until 2030. This is supposed to be achieved through cleaner technologies that rely less on fossil fuel but more on renewable resources.

  2. Economic: The green and sustained economy. As defined by the UN, the green economy must be a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy. Growth and employment shall be driven by public and private investments into activities that allow for reduced carbon-emissions, enhance energy and resource efficiency and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

  3. Social: The Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations set out several ambitious goals in the social area of life, such as ending poverty and hunger (goal 1 and 2), attain quality education for everyone (goal 4), as well as decent work through economic growth and innovation.(goal 8)

As one can clearly see from this, sustainability is indeed more than just a trendy term.

Sustainability please a crucial role in order to safeguard not only the environment, but also to produce a new economic model that is inclusive of all global communities creating employment and opportunities for everyone.

Many governments and supranational bodies (especially the European Union, as a pioneer in sustainability frameworks like the EU Taxonomy) have implemented frameworks to foster sustainability which are now becoming mandatory for companies to comply with and otherwise will lead to sanctions.

But what is the connection between sustainability and the food supply chain, food production in general and agriculture on a more general level?

Indeed, food production faces its very own challenges. One major factor is obviously a growing population that generates a greater need for increased food production. This generates a need by the food industry to expand their supply of quality raw materials. Secondly, agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change and at the same time strongly affected by it.

And here is where the sustainability challenges lie:

Many agricultural yields are subject to external factors like climate change, water shortages and excessive land usage which all lead to diminished returns for agricultural producers.

Food supply chains are usually complex due to the fact that many different producers are involved.

Especially food supply chains in countries of the Global South, where a majority of the foods that we consume on a daily basis originate from, have an added layer of complexity as they commonly involve smallholder farmers with limited access to information and markets and far distance travels.

Thus, food companies need to encourage more sustainable food supply chains by:

  • investing into sustainable agricultural practices in their supply chains

  • helping enhancing food brands

  • meeting new market demands

Thus, actions towards sustainability in the food supply chain need to also act on within 3 pillars:

  1. Environment: Food companies need to be more engaged to help farmers use innovative ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reduce excessive water usage through smarter irrigation practices which will help increase yield.

  2. Economy: Each member of the supply chain needs to benefit from food production. Thus, markets should be made more accessible for small farmers. Small farmers should become a fix part of the supply chain as recurrent suppliers.

  3. Social: All value chain players and especially the producers should receive fair returns and work under good conditions, receiving education, training and health services. The increased social wellbeing will also help ensure the continued participation of the community in the supply chain.

There is a lot to do when it comes to sustainability in the food supply chain and as a company we are excited to be part of this change and help improve all the steps within our supply chain for the benefit of people, planet and prosperity!

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