Businesses want a sustainable future too

Big business, environmentalists and those campaigning for social justice want many of the same things - even if they want them for different reasons.

This was the message at the core of Sustainable Sourcing – Agricultural Raw Materials Summit, an event put on by London Business Conferences this week.

The summit brought together CSR and procurement professionals from a wide range of companies, from high street retailers and major household brands to producers and wholesalers who may be less familiar to the consumer but whose impact on global agriculture is enormous.

WWF policy advisor Richard Perkins outlined how the key motives of organisations like his own differed from those of business, but that both wanted a stable, healthy environment.

In simple terms, he said, environmental NGOs considered the environmental impact of an activity, while businesses needed to know that they could continue to get the resources they needed in order to run their operation profitably.

In short, both wanted a sustainable future.

He gave many examples of where the agendas converged – the rising temperatures attributed to climate change meant worse crop yields in many parts of the world and also threaten wildlife, he said.

Drought and flooding, as well as excessive demands on existing water supplies, are also bad news for everyone, he said, and the same went for pollution, which could harm production and possibly make products unsafe for consumers.

The same was often true for social justice, he said, with suppliers wanting to work in a healthy environment while governments of the countries where multinational food producers were sourcing their raw materials were prepared to pull the plug on operations if they did not feel those companies were behaving in a responsible way.

Speakers from the business community discussed how introducing sustainable farming practices did not have to mean higher costs – as energy and water savings can improve an industrial facility’s environmental performance while reducing expenditure, so agribusiness can save cash through better resource efficiency too.

Some also acknowledged that sustainability had slipped down the agenda in the wake of the global recession, but said ignoring these issues was a false economy and those companies that did would do so at their own peril.

The also lamented the ever-increasing number of standards and codes against which they can benchmark their social and environmental performance, and called for work towards developing a single set of metrics against which the sustainability of any given set of products could be judged.

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie