The beginnings of sustainability initiatives can be traced to the Industrial Revolution, when people first started questioning its main negative consequence - air pollution. Concerned voices were few at the time, but they paved the way for today’s organized environmental movements whose goal is to undertake a revolution of another sort. They are demanding radical changes in our industrial efforts and economic practices, alleviating the negative effects they have on the environment.
Market-oriented initiatives for sustainable production processes have been expanding in recent years. Many of them have their focus on the food sector, because today’s food production practices are a threat to the environment.
Sustainably produced food deserves this classification only if it was produced with great care towards the land where ingredients were cultivated, water that was used, and people who worked on the land. In other words, to grow food sustainably means to conserve biodiversity, protect ecosystems, and offer fair treatment to all involved in the production process.
Why is this important to food producers? Because there is no future of food production without reconsidering food production methods. Today’s intensive farming and all the unsustainable practices that go with mass production seriously endanger the world’s biodiversity which, in turn, endangers our survival. The fact that our land cultivation practices have led to the disappearance of 75% of agricultural crop varieties should be a wake up call to all.
Before we move on to explaining in more detail how consumers and clean label initiatives are pushing towards more sustainable food systems, let’s take a look at the infographic that summarizes these initiatives and their goals:
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Today the consumers are driving the market like never before. Their need for healthier food, better treatment of nature and people, and safer future is reflected in the rise of new initiatives for sustainable food production. There are countless such initiatives worldwide, but their goals are similar: to focus on local, small-scale production rather than industrial (mass) production.
Arguments for industrial, mass, hyper production:
There are 7 billion people in the world, out of which 1 billion are underfed. Genetically modified organisms yield a bigger amount of crops. Hormone and antibiotics fed livestock grow faster and don’t succumb to diseases. Eliminating forests makes room for more arable land. Many people think all these processes are necessary to feed the hungry.
However, according to official reports, even one-fourth of all the wasted food in the world would be enough to feed the hungry. So instead of putting our efforts into hyper productivity that threatens the environment, we should focus on eliminating food waste.
Arguments for local, small-scale agriculture:
It can more easily make optimum use of resources - eliminating the use of chemicals, protecting the soil from erosion, not polluting water and using it resourcefully, preserving the natural habitat for wild animals, traveling fewer miles for food distribution, thus saving energy, keeping food waste to a minimum, etc.
There are obstacles to creating a sustainable food market throughout the whole food making process: from production practices, processing food, manufacturing, transportation, retail, preparation, to waste disposal.
The main obstacle is that the current system is based on mechanisms of waste and overproduction. That way large corporations can quickly sell-off old products and keep stacking the market with new products.
However, green movements and small to mid-size food producers are highly motivated to redesign the food market. Ensuring the existence of arable land, crops and other natural resources in the future is the most important factor that drives sustainable initiatives, but there are other, more profit-driven motivations as well. For one, small producers need a competitive edge to enter the game with large corporations, and what better way to do that, than to answer the rising need of consumers for healthy, sustainably grown food?
The multitude of environmental movements and their zeal have resulted in many green projects throughout the world. Some goals are reached, many more initiatives are underway. Here are some of the things these organizations are trying to implement:
The responsibility for creating a sustainable food market is not only on the producers, but also on consumers. They should use their buying power and habits to influence the food production methods, thus taking an active role in creating a more humane, ecological economy.
The way to identify products derived from more environmentally sustainable systems is via eco labels, or more broadly, environmental labels. Eco labels on food serve to show that a company went through a rigorous process of obtaining certification that their products have been made according to standards of sustainable food production.
According to Ecolabel Index, currently there are 148 eco labels on food in the world. Some of the more commonly used ones are:
The organizations behind these labels issue certifications only to companies that prove food sustainability practices throughout the supply chain.
The certification process can take several months. It includes visits from third-party auditors who inspect the company’s farms, crops, animals, machines and processes, transportation methods, waste disposal practices, and finally write evaluations based on which the companies receive certification or get instructions what to change in their practices.
Though the process of acquiring an eco label is long and costly, businesses are investing in them because research shows that consumers are increasingly trusting food products with eco labels.
The consumers are more powerful today than ever before. Their demands for more sustainable food systems have managed to seriously rock food circles. Research shows that food businesses that are responding to consumers’ requests by implementing sustainable practices in their business are being rewarded. Here are some stats that prove that:
In 2017, the sales growth of products labeled as "sustainable" grew by approximately 7.2 percent compared to the previous year.
The number of households with people who pay more for eco-friendly products and services in the US in the year 2018 amounted to 14.3 million.
The study Beyond Clean Label found that 86% of millennials and 89% of those with dependent children say clean label impacts their purchasing decisions.
Informed buyers don’t trust the “natural” claim, but when it’s used with other claims such as “no growth hormones”, they are willing to pay $3.07 more per pound of steak.
51% of the respondents cited certifications and claims as a factor they use to determine product transparency.
77% of U.S. adults reported using the Nutrition Facts label always, most of the time, or sometimes when buying a food product.
In 2017, 46% of retailers and wholesalers increased their store brand to focus more on natural and organic products.
If consumers and green organizations win the race with large corps that don’t want to abandon traditional “unclean” agriculture, we’ll win a more optimistic future for us, our descendents, and all our planet’s precious resources.