Fixing the Business of Food, a new report from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN), praises food industry leaders for aligning themselves with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, but calls upon businesses for more concrete actions and detailed reporting systems towards sustainable development.
At the BCFN’s announcement of the report, speakers commended the food industry for becoming aware of its role in problems like greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity harm, soil degradation, poverty, and obesity—and adopting goals and reporting systems to track their progress toward a sustainable system. However, reporting and monitoring is not enough, especially as businesses carefully select the information they publicize and use non-scientific—and non-consistent—benchmarks for progress.
“To achieve the SDGs, business leaders need to align their company’s performance, reporting, and monitoring with the SDGs, and to do so along their entire supply chains,” says Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
In the report’s assessment of 10 leading companies in the food industry, researchers found that companies also generally did not report on their supply chains in enough detail, provide specific information on food content or health impacts, or prove that they practice corporate citizenship—making exclusively positive impacts on the planet, rather than working to balance out negative externalities. “Despite all the excitement around SDGs, it is very superficial, what companies are doing. When we look at the impact they’re having underground, it is far from what we need to be seeing,” says Charlotte Ersboll, Senior Advisor to the United Nations Global Compact.
The report offered new questions to assess each company’s alignment with the SDGs with consistent benchmarks. These include considering the business’ role in healthy and sustainable dietary patterns worldwide; sustainable supply chains; economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable production processes; and modifying business behavior to erase negative and boost positive externalities.
“Businesses need to do more to be sustainable: they need to be good citizens in the food system,” says Angelo Riccaboni, Chair of the Santa Chiara Lab at the University of Siena and Chair of the PRIMA Foundation.
The BCFN joined in collaboration with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, and the Santa Chiara Lab of the University of Siena for the report which marks the first phase of the Project on Sustainability in the Food Sector. Over the course of two years, the four organizations will raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities for the food sector to work towards achieving the SDGs. In the second phase of the project, the organizations will work directly with industry leaders to develop SDG-based goals and principles.
“Our planet is crying out for us to make these changes,” says Guido Barilla, chairman and CEO of the Barilla Group. “The food industry must align to support the sustainable development goals. We can do it and it is time to take action.”