Sustainable Foods Summit – a call for greater collaboration

Sustainable Foods Summit updated banner

The recent 2014 Sustainable Foods Summit that this writer attended in San Francisco was a remarkable and engaging two days. Over 160 senior executives debated key sustainability issues affecting the North American food industry. Ethical sourcing & biodiversity impacts, the role of sustainability metrics, and food ingredients for sustainability were some of the major themes covered.

Collaboration

The importance of collaboration was highlighted by several speakers. Opening keynote speaker Theresa Marquez of Organic Valley called for a holistic approach to sustainability. Focusing on measuring impacts led to ‘reductionist thinking’, she said, whereas a more co-operative approach was necessary to change to sustainable food systems.

Sustainable FoodsJonathan Mayes, Safeway’s Public Affairs Government Relations Philanthropy and CSR Senior Vice President, said that Safeway has entered partnerships with hundreds of farmers to supply sustainable foods for its stores. The retailer’s sustainability strategy, he said, focuses on zero-waste, reducing greenhouse gases and packaging waste. Mayes stated that greater transparency, more collaborations and increased engagement with suppliers was the way forward for Safeway.

The right approach

Henk Campher of Edelman called for green brands to take a personalized approach when marketing their products. ‘Social media has given brands the opportunity to communicate directly with consumers in an authentic way,” he said. Green brands need to be more effective in communicating their sense of purpose.

GMO labeling – mandatory vs. voluntary

GMO graphicLabeling of genetically modified (GM) foods was a hot discussion topic at the summit. The Non-GMO Project, in its paper on GMO ingredient labeling, said 90 percent of Americans favor GM labeling. However, concerns about high labeling costs are deterring consumers to vote at the ballot box. Representing the Just Label It! Campaign, Laura Batcha believes American food companies will increasingly opt for voluntary labeling schemes. Whole Foods Market and Ben & Jerry’s have already made GMO free pledges. Over 14,500 products are now certified Non-GMO Project Verified, with retail sales exceeding USD 5 billion.

The importance of Metrics

Life Cycle Analysis graphicIndustry experts discussed the growing use of metrics to measure sustainability.

According to Quantis, metrics enable the right questions for sustainability to be asked. The consulting company has extended the use of life-cycle analysis to social aspects such as human rights and labor force. In its paper, The Sustainability Consortium advocated  using sustainability scorecards as they create a ‘level playing field’ for food companies. Anheuser-Busch InBev stated it’s taking a risk-based approach to water management, starting with water conservation at its own operations followed by supply chain initiatives. According to SCS Global Services, the way forward for the food industry may be a unified standard for metrics; it gave details of a national sustainability agricultural standard.

What’s Next?

Sustainable Solutions graphicThe Summit raised many questions about sustainable development in the food industry: Is the future of eco-labels in a “clean label” – such as GMO-free, pesticide-free – or in positive labels like Fair trade? What can be done to prevent the proliferation of logos and seals? How can food & beverage firms innovate for sustainability? Are retailers and brands meeting rising consumer expectations of sustainable products? What are best-practices in green communication methods?

These questions will be addressed at the upcoming Latin American (27-28 March, São Paulo) and European editions (Amsterdam, 5-6 June) of the Sustainable Foods Summit. And you can be sure that you’ll see more about these issues and unique solutions right here over the coming months as well.

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