From New York, a truly sustainable proposal for the food sector

From New York, a truly sustainable proposal for the food sector

September 27, 2019

From New York, a truly sustainable proposal for the food sector

A workshop dedicated to the Business of Food and a document created with the aim of helping the food sector align itself with the UN's sustainable development goals are the Barilla Foundation’s contribution to the SDG Summit.

The geographical setting, New York City, is one of the most famous skylines in the world, but equally prestigious is the political and institutional framework for the “Fixing the Food BusinessWorkshop organized by the Barilla Foundation on September 24, 2019, on the occasion of the opening session of the 74th General Assembly of the United Nations

A side event to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit  which aims to assess the progress made so far in implementing the 2030 Agenda and to suggest ways of improving the effectiveness of efforts made to achieve the 17 goals, starting with four essential areas of intervention: promoting and developing healthy and sustainable diets,  identifying sustainable ways to produce food, developing sustainable food supply chains and, finally, being a “good corporate citizen”, a company that is aware of its role, is a responsible member of society and promotes a culture of transparency and community involvement.

An all-round discussion

Many noteworthy speakers took part in the Workshop representing institutions, academia and the business world. After a greeting by Guido Barilla, President of the Barilla Foundation, and Jeffrey Sachs, Professor at Columbia University and Director of SDSN, the discussion got underway, examining all aspects of the active involvement of businesses in the transformation to a sustainable agro-food economy. The debate focused on a project that is primarily aimed at collecting, analyzing and promoting sustainable practices for the agro-food sector. This is the first step towards a greater awareness of the challenges arising from the 17 sustainable development goals and towards an increasingly broader sharing of experiences and best practices that cease to view profit as an end in itself to make the economy grow instead, taking into account the quality and safety of food, as well as the protection of the environment and society. 

The recommendations in a report 

Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN), UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) and Santa Chiara Lab-University of Siena (SCL): four organizations have combined their efforts to run a project aimed at the food industry. A major result of this shared commitment is the report presented at the New York Workshop, which shares the same name of “Fixing the Food Business - The Food Industry and the SDG Challenge”. 

In addition to the latest data on the impact of food systems and the food sector on health, the environment and society, the report also illustrates the opportunities for industries that decide to focus on sustainability: to do so, the authors have identified four general questions that allow the extent to which a company is aligned with the SDG recommendations to be verified.

For example, how healthy and beneficial are the products of a given industry for its customers? The global obesity epidemic shows that the food sector must contribute not only to producing healthier foods but also to making the consumer aware of the implications between food and health.

When you look at production processes, it is easy to see that in almost all industries there is ample room for improvement in terms of sustainability of the supply chain, worker safety, and environmental impact (in terms of air, water and land use, as well as CO2 emissions), maintaining biodiversity and reducing waste production through more careful packaging design. And although many industries are already committed to some of these fronts, improvements can be made to the multidimensional assessment of the environmental impact.

The supply of raw materials is another area in which industries can make progress, choosing sustainable suppliers and ensuring the sustainability of the entire supply chain through modern traceability systems. Another area of potential improvement is the disposal of waste generated by a company's products, with responsibilities in this area being shared.

The subject was taken up at the New York workshop by the Director General of FAO Qu Dongyu: “As an institution we must work to improve the production system, but also the distribution chain, favoring the digital transition of the economies of developing countries like China, which is where I come from. This is the only way to have total product traceability and to monitor their sustainability. But that is not enough: we must also strengthen the value chain, which means that the industry must share not only its economic value but also its culture with suppliers and consumers. The value chain is developed by sharing a culture of sustainability and appropriate educational programs.

This same concept is also taken up in the report, which suggests that the industry should be a “good corporate citizen”, giving an ethical dimension to legitimate market competition, avoiding harm to workers, competitors, citizens and the communities within which it operates.


The antisocial behaviors identified by the authors of the report are tax evasion, worker discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or gender, distribution of unsafe products or the appropriation of land belonging to native communities.

Finally, the practical recommendations for achieving the objectives include the need to adopt a common standard for reporting systematic information on the production chain, making it easier to compare various operators and to assess process sustainability on a global scale. In order to reduce their impact on the planet, according to experts, food industries should establish virtuous agreements in the pre-competition phase, i.e. before competing in the market to attract the attention of consumers.

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