Adam Grant, Regional Vice President - UK, Belgium, Netherlands & Ireland at Danone, was speaking at the recent IGD Live event in London, attended by 500 business leaders in the FMCG space.
At the same event 10 years ago, he said, 86% of the audience said they were strongly committed to sustainability and were optimistic on the believe that by 2020 the industry would have found a path to sustainable growth and that big and small businesses would be recognised as a force for good.
"These were some pretty amazing claims,” he said. “Have we been able to deliver on these goals? Have we really found the path as an industry to sustainable growth? Have we lowered our carbon, water and energy footprints? Have we reduced and improved the nutritional intake of consumers across the UK? Certainly looking back now, that seems an incredible optimistic vision 10 years ago."
Today, he noted, only nine crops account for two thirds of food production and that globally one third of the food we manufacture is wasted. Meanwhile, we have lost 6.5 million hectares of forest in the last five years - an area equivalent to the United Kingdom. He added that 33% of the world’s soil is now degraded. "The most concerning stat is that we look at the rates of childhood obesity have increased an incredible 50% since 2007."
‘Consumer trust has eroded’
All this has led to an erosion of consumer trust. According IGD data, just 33% of consumers trust the industry to tackle food waste; and only 34% trust the industry to limit its impact on the environment. "That's a damning result," observed Grant.
Some progress has been made, he noted. He welcomed the Collaboration for Healthier Lives and UK Wrap food waste initiatives as examples of how industry collaboration can be a force for good.
But he added: “From my perspective, it’s too slow and too silent. We’re not moving quick enough in this direction.”
We need to act collectively
Grant complained that two factors were hindering progress. "We do not act collectively. In a sense we are too focused on out-competing one another rather than actually thinking about what are the areas where we can work together."
Second is the tension between short-term effects of profit versus the longer term objectives of sustainability. To this end, he called on other global food firms to become certified B Corp.
Certified B Corporations are businesses that claim meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. There are currently over 3,000 B Corp certified organisations worldwide aiming to accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
In total 14 of Danone's subsidies are certified B Corp, covering over 30% of global sales. The French food giant aims to become the first certified B Corp multinational.
“B Corp is a philosophy of businesses who want to be the change and be a force for good,” said Grant. “Its businesses put not only just shareholders as part of the business but all stakeholders. Community, the environment, its employees, its customers and suppliers. It governs itself in a way that holds itself to the highest standards. It’s a really tough process to become accredited and I'm very proud that the dairy business here in the UK became accredited in 2017."
He added: "For me, it’s a moral imperative. It’s not about profit for profits sake. It about the duty of care that we have as leaders of the industry to really be the change."