Building the Business Case for Sustainability - One Company at a Time

LRQA reports from the Food & Beverage Sustainability Conference – 29-30 January, Berlin

Large organisations in Europe are addressing sustainability and engaging with their stakeholders. That is the good news.   However, the ‘less good news’ is that the paths that companies are choosing can vary greatly, with very little harmonisation in approach or methodology being applied.

At the Food & Beverage Sustainability Summit, almost 100 Sustainability Directors, Managers and other industry experts gathered in Berlin to share their own organisational strategies and visions for a sustainable future within the food and beverage sector. Trust, transparency, stakeholder engagement, education, training and certification were some of the buzzwords being used by the companies presenting, as well as the delegates.

On day one, presentations ranged from large, global organisations such as Bayer Crop Science, Nestle and Kellogg’s to non-corporate’s such as The Forest Trust.  Best practice, a bit of corporate marketing and some of the challenges that companies are facing, both internally and externally, were among the areas that the speakers focused on. Some of the main highlights of the first day came from Bastien Sachet, The Forest Trust’s Director and Nestlé.
Mr. Sachet’s topic was built around changing the way we view sustainability. His views were clear, stop treating sustainability separately from the way you run your business, sustainability is a product requirement and should be treated in the same way we manage product quality. He also questioned the relevance of round tables and multi-stakeholder initiatives. He supported that argument with his comment, “Apple did not work with Samsung or Microsoft when developing the touch screen. They developed it, introduced it to the market and then other companies followed.”

Another viewpoint came from Ms. El-Hage Scialabba from the Sustainable Assessment of Food & Agricultural Systems (SAFA) who talked about how the sustainability landscape has changed over the past 20 years, with today’s companies making a ‘business case’ for sustainability, a significant shift from the ‘idealistic’ views that were prominent in the early to mid-1990’s - many of which prompted cries of ‘greenwash’ and scepticism from the market at large.

Fast forward to 2014, and clearly, sustainability is a strategic issue for companies, one that is being addressed. The sentiment from Berlin was that organisations are taking an individual approach, with little sharing of best practice or harmonisation of standards.

One message that was consistent was the connection between good sustainability practice and the bottom line, with Nestlé’s Pascal Greverath providing one of the most impactful statements of the day, “Nestlé has reduced our water and carbon footprint by 50% on average per product over the past 10 years.”   Their presentation can be viewed here.

A resounding theme from the speakers from Day One was that irrespective of the tactics used, the business case for sustainability has to be built to incorporate all three pillars; environmental, social and economic.

Interestingly, many of the organisations highlighted the importance of the CDP for reporting their GHG emissions and having them independently verified as a driver for stakeholder engagement.

With the food and beverage industry possibly one of the single biggest sectors where sustainability can touch almost every aspect of an organisations’ operations and supply chain, the focus on developing meaningful strategies to drive brand reputation, stakeholder engagement and trust has never been stronger.

LRQA’s Madlen King, Global Head of Climate Change & Sustainability and Cor Groenveld, Global Head of Food Supply Chain Services will be sharing a stage with Carlsberg at this key industry event talking about how a global sustainable commitment keeps the Carlsberg beer - and supply chain - flowing smoothly.

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