Gréverath says FoodDrinkEurope has "repeatedly encouraged" NGOs to bring their views to the discussions on sustainability

Gréverath says FoodDrinkEurope has "repeatedly encouraged" NGOs to bring their views to the discussions on sustainability

As corporate executives, NGO leaders and government representatives count the carbon cost of their sojourn to Rio last month, Ben Cooper examines FoodDrinkEurope's Environmental Sustainability Vision Towards 2030, the organisation's third sustainability report, published to coincide with the Rio+20 conference and underline the European food sector's commitment to collective engagement on environmental sustainability.

Last month saw the launch of the third Environmental Sustainability Report by European food manufacturers' association FoodDrinkEurope (FDE). The organisation's first report came out on the tenth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit so timing this report to coincide with Rio+20 seemed to make perfect sense.

As one would expect, the report reflects how things have moved on since 1992. Pascal Gréverath, assistant vice president for environmental sustainability at Nestle and chair of FoodDrinkEurope's Environmental Sustainability Committee, says FDE "has developed industry’s collective response" since the first report was published. 

Over the intervening ten years addressing environmental sustainability has become "an even more critical priority" for the industry and it now "urgently demands the delivery of a collective response". 

The latest report (http://www.fooddrinkeurope.eu/publication/fooddrinkeurope-launches-environmental-sustainability-vision-for-2030/) is marked out particularly by the inclusion of the FDE Environmental Sustainability Vision towards 2030. 

This covers three core areas: sustainable sourcing; resource efficiency along the food chain; and sustainable consumption and production, and includes specific actions the industry has committed to in order to make the vision a reality.

Describing the Vision for 2030 as a "first" for the European food industry, Gréverath points to the broad stakeholder consultation that has underpinned it, which included a stakeholder survey and a workshop. "The FoodDrinkEurope Vision puts a great emphasis on working together with stakeholders and considers it vital to achieve success in the long term in all three core areas," he tells just-food. "Action by food and drink manufacturers alone is not enough. Engagement with stakeholders is increasingly embedded in how we do business."  

Collective action and engagement, he continues, facilitates shared learning, R&D and eco-innovation, technology transfer, and overall helps to improve the environmental performance along the life-cycle of a product "to support the transition towards a more resource-efficient economy".

A "good example" of such collaboration, he says, is the European Food Sustainable Consumption and Production Round Table, a multi-stakeholder forum initiated by FDE in 2009 and jointly chaired by food chain partners, including FDE, and the European Commission.

The Food SCP R-T brings together representatives from the supply chain, several European Commission Directorates-General, international organisations such as the UN Environment Programme and consumer and environmental NGOs to develop and test environmental assessment methodologies, frame guidance on communicating environmental information and promote environmental improvement. 

While Gréverath is at pains to stress that all stakeholders are included "on an equal footing", there have been some suggestions that industry concerns have tended to dominate the agenda. Notably, in an interview with just-food late last year Jeroen Van Laer, policy officer at DG Sanco, expressed just that concern (/interview/food-scp-round-table-joins-ecolabel-debate_id117771.aspx).

However, Gréverath appears satisfied with the efforts made to engage non-industry participants. "FoodDrinkEurope has repeatedly encouraged the involvement of more NGOs in the work of the Round Table, as we have done to develop our Environmental Sustainability Vision Towards 2030," he says. "The Round Table is an open organisation welcoming all stakeholders with relevant expertise." 

He adds that "a number of FoodDrinkEurope’s priority actions" in the Vision for 2030 are also key actions of the Round Table, but "not all the actions are derived from the work of the Round Table", and the FDE's work and that of the Round Table are "complementary".

There have also been questions about the extent of tangible action that the Round Table has brought about. 

Once again, Gréverath stoutly defends the Round Table. "We believe that the Round Table has set concrete objectives and deliverables that are useful for its members and beyond," he says, pointing to the development of the Protocol for the Environmental Assessment of Food and Drink as a "key achievement" (http://www.food-scp.eu/files/WG1-2011-Workshop-Report.pdf)

He continues: "This Protocol is a fundamental deliverable of the European Food Sustainable Consumption and Production  Round Table and has been developed jointly by the European Commission and food chain partners, NGOs, academia and national experts." He also points to the recommendations on the use of tools for communicating environmental information, unveiled last year. 

Among the Vision commitments, FDE states that it will "continue to actively engage" in the Round Table to promote the harmonisation of environmental assessment methodologies, facilitate the communication of environmental performance and identify priority research programmes and opportunities for technical innovation to support continuous environmental improvement.

The European Commission will evaluate its continued participation in the Round Table at the end of this year. The level of stakeholder consultation that has gone into the FDE's Vision for 2030 can only help in demonstrating the industry's preparedness to engage with non-industry partners on environmental issues.

By the same token, timing the publication of the report to coincide with Rio+20 has much to do with underlining the industry's commitment to engage with all stakeholders, including government and non-government agencies, on sustainability.

"The first environmental report on the food sector that FoodDrinkEurope contributed to was on the occasion of Rio+10. This time the intention was to contribute to the Rio+20 Conference by showing that the food sector is fully committed and engaged to work with other stakeholders on sustainability," Gréverath says.

"Food manufacturers have come a long way already in a relatively short space of time. Since the publication of the last FDE Environmental Sustainability Report in 2008, an increasing number of companies large and small have continued to step up their efforts to implement sustainable practices in their own business operations and via collaborative activities with other stakeholders across the supply chain."

Rather than industry seeking to show their commitment to politicians, in an ideal world Rio+20 would have been about policymakers showing the world the bold steps they plan to take to address climate change. The likely outcome of Rio+20 was known some way ahead so there was little surprise when this failed to materialise, but still disappointment from a wide range of stakeholders including FDE.

Gréverath is nonetheless positive about the industry's own endeavours. "Despite disappointment with Rio+20 from governments at global level, the European food industry remains committed to building on the progress already made and working towards delivering on the environmental sustainability vision and actions," he says. "Whatever the situation, Europe’s food operators support a renewed international political commitment to address new and emerging challenges of environmental sustainability and welcome partnership with stakeholders and NGOs to enable industry to do so."

Given the absence of a strong lead from governments at Rio+20, much of the corporate rhetoric at the time centred on how industry is setting the agenda and taking the initiative on global environmental action. 

Gréverath believes the FDE Environmental Sustainability Vision towards 2030 represents an example of the industry setting the agenda, and that such assertiveness should be welcomed by politicians, particularly as industry can effect change more quickly than governments. 

He says the European food industry has "shown itself to be a responsible and constructive leader in the global transition towards a green economy" through its commitment to low-carbon and resource-efficient solutions and promoting sustainable patterns of production and consumption in partnership with stakeholders.

He concludes: "We hope that by collaborating closely with government, food chain partners and other stakeholders, we can upscale our efforts and ensure the long-term duration of our achievements towards smart, green growth. Without doubt, a common view on the challenges paves the way for collaboration on the solutions."