The global food system faces challenges in providing adequate nutrition and minimising harm to the environment. Transforming it, from farm to fork and disposal, is imperative.

Today, almost 690 million people are hungry, up to two billion overweight and obese, and agriculture and land use systems are increasingly responsible for and vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation.

Companies in the food sector – from producers to processors and distributors – must take concrete action to align their strategies and operations with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement. This is especially urgent in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes it imperative “to build back better” and create a resilient food system that is truly regenerative and restorative, more inclusive and healthier for people.

To better understand the role of businesses in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to promote more sustainable practices, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) and the Santa Chiara Lab of the University of Siena (SCL) joined efforts to create the Fixing the Business of Food Initiative. As a result of their research and work, the following four pillars were defined to help guide agri-food businesses in their alignment with the 2030 Agenda:
  • Promote healthy and sustainable dietary patterns throughout product and strategy development
  • Consider the environmental and social impacts of the business and its operations, including resource use (land, water, energy) and emissions, respect for human rights and decent work conditions
  • Promote, incentivise and ensure more sustainable practices and better livelihoods within supply/value chains
  • Be a good corporate citizen
Within this Four Pillar Framework, environmental, nutritional, social impact and governance topics to be considered as relevant for agri-food companies are highlighted. Using this framework, the Fixing the Business of Food’s consortium analysed the business practices, accountability frameworks and sustainability reports of leading agri-food companies to identify how to best support the transformation to a more sustainable and healthier food system.

The analysis uncovered that in order to support the transformation to more sustainable and healthier food systems, a change in business practices is required, as well as more harmonised and comparable monitoring and reporting standards to support companies as they set ambitious targets in terms of the four dimensions highlighted. Additional analysis of agri-food companies using the four pillars uncovered the following:

1. Sustainability standards, frameworks, certifications, and accounting mechanisms should be improved in line with the 2030 Agenda, especially with reference to topics concerning supply/value chains and corporate citizenship – areas where companies tend to share very few disclosures.

2. Metrics more coherent with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement should be defined by regulators to be adapted by companies. To this aim, the Fixing the Business of Food Initiative will release its 2020 Report in September, including proposals for a more precise measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

3. Businesses should systematically disclose their strategies, practices, and achievements or non-achievements of sustainability targets, using standardised indicators, metrics and benchmarks in order to measure the alignment of their strategies to the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement.

4. Businesses can promote more sustainable and healthier dietary patterns through marketing and communications. Such efforts should be clearly represented in their sustainability reports.

5. In line with the provisions of the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy, policymakers should actively support a more ambitious regulation on sustainability reporting and ask for more rigorous governance and management practices that align with the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

6. When monitoring the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) of companies’ performance, investors should put more emphasis on metrics and indicators aligned with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement.

7. Businesses should be supported in their transition towards sustainability. This would allow companies to take advantage of the opportunities behind such change, without being fearful of the transition. To this aim, a self-assessment model based on the Four Pillar Framework is currently being developed by the Fixing the Business of Food Initiative.

To learn more about these issues and proposals, register for the upcoming event “Fixing the Business of Food – A Critical Cross-Sector Dialogue to Re-Strategize Food Businesses,” featuring a wide range of experts and stakeholders, from academia to the financial and business sectors. The event will take place at 1.00 to 3.00 p.m. EST – 7.00 to 9.00 p.m. CEST on 22 September 2020.