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Blog Post
27 May 2014

CSR is Dead, Long Live the Triple Bottom Line! – Sustainable Business at the EAT Forum

What is the common cause of the most of the public health and environmental issues? Diets and the way today’s food system is. Between the 26th – 27th of May the EAT Forum in Stockholm gathered businessmen, policy makers, scientists and civil society to talk about the food-health-sustainability nexus and ways of stopping the quagmire of issues that we set off by our eating patterns and the way we make food.

There was an impressive list of participants, organizers and supporters, which includes Former US President Bill Clinton, H.R.H. Prince of Wales, Gunhild Stordalen (Stordalen Foundation), Johan Rockström (Stockholm Resilience Center), Michael Bakker (Google), Walter Willet (Harvard School of Public Health), Peter Bakker (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, WBCSD), Tim Lang (City University of London), Fejke Sijbesma (Royal DSM) and many others.  This high profile was evidence of the growing global understanding and awareness of the pressing “food challenge”.

Quite unusually for an event such as this, EAT placed the business case at the center of its first day agenda, explicitly stressing the idea of interconnectedness. “Coming from academia I am in favor of the evidence-based approach, but evidence alone has never changed the world. Science has to be implemented and business doesn’t have to be a problem, it can be a part of the solution”, – said Gunhild Stordalen, the founder of the event, in her introduction to the day.

Examples of business cases presented at the Forum demonstrated that business cares about environmental and health of its employees, quality of their products and future of their businesses. For instance, employees in Google have free meals which are made in a sustainable way, Max (The Swedish fast-food chain) offsets 100% of CO2 produced as a result of its supply chain by planting trees in Africa, BAMA (the Norwegian fruit and vegetable retailer) ensures long-term approach by setting 15 year contracts with its suppliers, and Tristram Stuart proved that there is a business case for fruits and vegetables that don’t comply with “cosmetic” standards set by the food industry.

Perhaps, the most nutritious food for thought was provided by the panel of experts in the end of the day. The panel, masterly moderated by Richard Horton, included Peter Bakker (WBCSD), Feike Sijbesma (Royal DSM), Henning Beltestad (Lerøy Seafood Group), Anna Bexell (UNDP) and Richard Bergfors (Max).  They discussed questions such as;

“How can we change the food system in order for it to provide us with healthy food, save environment and make a business sense?” “Should we give up on our planet if the solutions don’t make business sense?” and “Does food production need stricter regulation and how does business get on board of the global race for sustainability?”

The messages from the panel were wide reaching but can be condensed in the following points which one should have in mind for work with sustainable business solutions:

  • Business has more power and influence than any other sector, so it should also show more responsibility.
  • Business has to be oriented towards stakeholders, not only to shareholders.
  • CSR is dead, triple bottom line* has to be incorporated into business model.
  • Collaboration is crucial.
  • Trust has two elements: positive attitude and actions.
  • Business leaders agree they need regulation, sustainability is not something they will work with unless consumers demand it and it provides economic gains.
  • Trust comes slowly on foot and leaves by Facebook or Twitter in seconds.
  • You need to look far beyond the coffee bean you are producing.
  • Accountants will save the world! – There is a need for better standardization of measurements to create regulations that protect and support sustainability.

* Triple bottom line relates to Economic, Social and Environmental sustainability in business

Read another blog from the same event: Make Bad Food Choices Harder

Ekaterina Bessonova, Communications Officer at SIANI. Ekaterina holds Master Degree in Sustainable Development from Uppsala University.  Her final project was devoted to design of public-private partnership for waste management in Haiti. She also has a degree in Political Science, during which she majored in Political Communication and System Analysis. Ekaterina’s primary interests are focused around strategies for sustainable futures including organizational change, sustainable business and communication for development.