Collaboration, creativity help companies increase sustainability in the food sector

Businesses in the consumer product market are finding themselves under an increasing amount of pressure to meet public demand for sustainability - and the food industry, in particular, has been a center of much of this attention. In many ways, it's natural that companies in the food sector are feeling pressure from consumers to move toward sustainable product sourcing. The potential negative health impacts of non-sustainably grown and processed foods have been more widely publicized than ever in recent years.

What's more, many of the threats the environment currently faces can be traced to agriculture. Research by the World Resources Institute found that as early as 2010, farming accounted for 24 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of water withdrawal.

The need for food producers and distributors to respond is beyond doubt - and this necessity is driving companies to develop more creative business and sustainability strategies.

Banding together for sustainable beef

As the problem is too vast for any one company to have much of an impact on its own, many of the recent attempts at increasing sustainability in the food supply chain have involved collaboration. GreenBiz Executive Editor Joel Makower spoke to JBS USA Chief Sustainability Officer Cameron Bruett about the worldwide beef industry's effort to adopt environmentally sound practices, and Bruett noted that the complexities of the distribution supply chain require a joint effort.

"When you talk about sustainability with the beef industry, you're talking about natural resources, land use, water, energy use," Bruett told Makower. But the factors at play don't end there.

"You're dealing with row crops and how those crops are managed ... Going up through the chain, you're also dealing with the environmental footprint of the factories that are producing the animal," Bruett went on to say in the interview. He noted effective solutions will take into consideration the needs of farmers and executives alike.

Give the people what they want

The challenges of sustainability in the food sector are made more complex by the industry's connection with the retail supply chain. Distributors rely on grocery stores and other markets to deliver their goods to consumers - and these outlets have to ensure that consumers' demands for sustainable foods are being met.

In a column for Forbes, Springwise Managing Director Chris Kreinczes highlighted an initiative by the Danish supermarket SuperBrugsen to take online recommendations from customers regarding what locally sourced products they'd like to see on the store's shelves.

With this program, SuperBrugsen may find that it can actually rely on consumers to provide creative ideas for sustainable sourcing.

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