Food industry can be world leader in sustainability
OPINION:Bord Bia’s Origin Green initiative aims to build on Ireland’s green credentials
As the world seeks to expand food production by 70 per cent over the next four decades, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost a similar order, sustainability has become a major issue for the global food industry. It is an area in which Ireland, building on its green credentials, can become a world leader, and significantly enhance the value of an industry that exports
€9 billion to more than 160 countries around the world. It is what we can and should be famous for, but it won’t happen by chance.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the world is using up resources at one and a half times the rate that the planet can sustain. Sustainability is the capacity of this generation to meet its needs without compromising the capacity of future generations to meet theirs.
In this, therefore,we appear to be failing. And so the issue, spurred on by climate change, has been rising up the global agenda. The corporate world has embraced sustainability and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index has been evaluating the sustainability performance of the largest 2,500 companies listed on the Dow Jones, since 1999. Yet, the scope for individual companies, retailers or manufacturers to make their activities more sustainable is limited to what they control themselves and their influence on their associated supply chains.
Bord Bia’s Origin Green initiative, in partnership with industry, is taking what is in effect a national approach that has yet to be emulated by any other food industry in any other nation.
We have set ourselves the goal that by 2014 some 75 per cent of all our food and drink exports will be sourced from farms and food businesses that have signed up to the programme and that by 2016, in so far as this is a voluntary initiative, all will have.
At farm level this means participation in an accredited quality assurance scheme and sustainability programme. By the end of next month, for example, we will have carbon-footprinted some 30,000 beef farms in a process of measurement, feedback and continuous improvement. By early next year a similar programme will be rolled out across all 18,000 dairy enterprises.
In this we are already a world leader. No other country is carbon footprinting its farms using such a systematic approach and in what is in effect a national scale. And working with Teagasc, the programme is being conducted to the highest international standards, based on carbon footprint calculation models accredited by the Carbon Trust.
As the programme is extended into other primary sectors we are also integrating additional sustainability measures around biodiversity and water.
Moving up the supply chain, last June we launched the Sustainability Charter. To date more than 100 companies, listed on Bord Bia’s origin green.iewebsite and accounting for more than 50 per cent of our food and drink exports, have committed to creating a five-year sustainability plan, with stretch targets to be independently verified, and with progress reports to be filed on an annual basis.
Ireland’s green credentials are strong. According to EU Commission research, our dairy industry shares, together with Austria, the lowest carbon footprint in the whole of the union. Our beef industry, the largest net exporter in the northern hemisphere, is also among the lowest. And in a world that is facing water shortages, with agriculture requiring the use of 70per cent of freshwater supplies for irrigation, our water stress index, not surprisingly, is among the lowest in the world!
It is almost as if the concept of sustainability was created for us. However, Bord Bia research among customers for our food and drink, covering the past four years, has elicited the response that yes, we are green, but now we must prove it as well. It is how we manage the resources with which we have been endowed as we pass them on to the next generation that matters most of all.
The Origin Green programme will provide today and over time a demonstrable proof of the commitment of farmers, fishermen and food producers, to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the capacity of future generations to meet theirs”.
Saoirse Ronan, who has worked with us on the programme on a pro bono basis, describes them in an explanatory video (see bordbia.ie) as “custodians, protectors, defenders”.
The programme will be helped by a strong commercial imperative. Improving one’s sustainability score over time can only happen through increasing efficiency, thereby lowering costs, and improving profitability. And it is the right thing to do.
Aidan Cotter is chief executive of Bord Bia