Best bits: Industry's green efforts return to spotlight
This week, two conferences in London will look at how the food industry is trying to alleviate its impact on the environment and the events are timely, with the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio next month.
In a month's time, the world's political leaders, senior representatives from business and NGOs will be among those in Rio for the latest UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
The Rio +20 event is taking place - as the name suggests - 20 years after the Brazilian city hosted the Earth Summit, at which international treaties on climate change and biodiversity were signed. Despite the frustration often felt at the level of progress made at such summits, even leading NGOs have called the 1992 conference a "landmark" event.
Expectations for Rio +20, however, are muted. Earlier this month, leading NGOs expressed concern at the lack of progress in drawing up a plan of action for world leaders to adopt at the conference. "After four months of talks on the so-called 'zero draft' outcome document, the Rio +20 talks are stuck at zero. Little or nothing has emerged that will deliver on what governments agreed was needed 20 years ago at the Earth Summit," Oxfam's Antonio Hill said.
The UN team will meet from 29 May for five days to work again on the plan, with the organisation admitting there are differences between developed and developing nations, while there is concern about how any measures would be implemented and monitored.
Political leaders, with their short-term mandates, often find it difficult to enact real change on issues like sustainable development, which necessitate a longer-term focus. Some could say the same of business, with, often, the short-term demands they face from shareholders. However, one business leader in our industry, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, told just-food last month business can sometimes go further than governments. "At Rio, you will see business pushing much harder and faster than governments as they will be tied up in election cycles," Polman said.
The environment and how to alleviate the impact business has upon it can often be one of those all-consuming issues where it is hard to identify solutions and then put them into action. The food industry is often cited as one of the key contributors to climate change but even the most ardent environment campaigner would concede progress has been made in areas such as carbon emissions and water usage. More work needs to be done, as the food industry itself admits pointing to the link between climate change and food security. But manufacturers and retailers have made strides and continue to do so, even in the toughest economic conditions for a generation.
Today, in London, the UKs Food and Drink Federation, the industry association for food manufacturers, is hosting an event to discuss how to continue "greening" the food system and the inherent challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. just-food will be bringing you the news and views from the conference, both on the main site and via Twitter (follow us at @just_food).
The event features UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, Nick Bunker, head of Kraft Foods in the UK and campaigners from organisations including the WWF and the Fairtrade Foundation.
In the meantime, for a flavour of what industry is doing in this field and for the debates surrounding issues from the environment to ethical sourcing, check out our monthly Sustainability Watch column. Our most recent interview is with General Mills; next week, we will talk to Swiss manufacturing and retailing giant Migros about its work on sustainability.
And, later this week, just-food will be reporting on the latest conference on the Round Table for Responsible Soy, an organisation set up in 2006 to draw up criteria for the sustainable cultivation of soy, which is used in animal feed and in a swathe of food products.
Last summer, Unilever and Ahold became among the first companies to acquire sustainable soy certified by the RTRS. The system works on a similar basis to certification schemes for palm oil, where food manufacturers and retailers buy certificates to encourage producers to move to sustainable production.
The conference, to be held on Wednesday and Thursday, will discuss how to increase supply and demand for sustainable soy, although some campaigners have criticised the scheme.
Sectors: Sustainability & the environment
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