Sustainability in the Food Industry: How Companies Can Get Ahead of Stakeholder Demands

The quest for sustainability is making life more stressful for manufacturers and retailers across the spectrum, but the food industry has a particularly complicated road to travel. Besides demands to cut greenhouse gas emissions, all kinds of stakeholders — regulators, activist investors, environmental and animal protection organizations, and even consumers — want to see food production and distribution become healthier, more socially responsible, more efficient and more humane. One day, the industry gets slammed for its carbon footprint, the next for its water usage and the next over animal welfare concerns and deforestation. Oftentimes, making progress in one area opens up a company to criticism in another and forces trade-offs of one good for another — pitting, for instance, gains in land-use efficiency against biodiversity needs. Competing environmental concerns sometimes prompt food manufacturers and retailers to give in on one issue even if it means compromising strategies on another, including some that might lead to lower emissions over the long run.

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