Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships to Make More Sustainable Food

by | Nov 2, 2011

Consumers today want healthier food that has minimal impact on the environment.  The reality, however, is that agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to both carbon and water footprints.  As PepsiCo introduces more nutritious foods into our product portfolio, we understand that could mean an increase in our environmental footprint.

As part of Performance with Purpose – our mission to deliver sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet – we have committed to a number of ambitious nutrition and environment sustainability goals.  Making this a practical reality is complex, but following are some thoughts on what we have learned so far, on our journey:

It starts with hiring the right people.

Companies need people who can blend strong expertise in nutrition with environmental and agricultural sustainability. These internal experts need to share their expertise with functional areas such as M&A, procurement, marketing, innovation and corporate strategy in an integrated fashion, so the expertise can be built into operations and help yield informed decisions about addressing both priorities. On balance, companies should also look to outside experts and form partnerships that serve both the community and the business objectives in a sustainable way.

Establish public-private partnerships and launch small-scale pilots.

Public-private partnerships bring together diverse expertise that can help companies to break new ground.

For instance, PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation recently announced a public-private partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) and USAID to dramatically increase chickpea production and promote long-term nutritional and economic security in Ethiopia.  The partnership will introduce the application of more modern agricultural practices, which advances healthy nutrition in the region while supporting local economic growth and PepsiCo’s short- and long-term financial performance.

The initial pilot will enable nearly 10,000 Ethiopian farmers to realize two-fold increase in chickpea yield through these new applications of modern agricultural practices.  The program will also help develop locally sourced, nutrient-rich, ready-to-use supplementary food to address malnutrition while also helping to scale up and strengthen the Ethiopian supply chain to harness the potential of a domestic and export market and increase the availability of locally-produced nutritious products for consumers. The results of this program will chart the course for further famine and economic sustainability programs in regions around the world.

Secure the support and guidance of stakeholders.

Working closely with key stakeholders, the food and beverage industry has made enormous strides to develop standards to measure environmental impact and nutrition.  On the agriculture front, we worked with our farmers to develop our Global Sustainable Agriculture Policy, which enables us to measure the performance of PepsiCo and its farmers on water and energy management and soil conservation and preservation, among other objectives.  For PepsiCo farmers in the UK & Ireland, for instance, that includes 350 PepsiCo-contracted farms with whom we are also working, along with other stakeholders, to develop new tools and technologies to help farmers measure the impact their crops have on the environment.

We need a new form of measurement.

New ways of measuring complex challenges, like the social impact of nutrition and the environment are not created overnight.  The dialogue underway with our stakeholders in the agriculture and environmental space provides a starting point. However, a new metric that measures the combined public health and environmental impact may be the next step in keeping consumers informed about the total impact of their purchases. Consider this:  what if every product contained both its nutritional value and associated carbon footprint?  For many years, the stakeholders in both communities have worked largely on their own within their respective area of expertise. We would welcome the opportunity to bring these communities together to embark on a serious discussion to combine existing metrics and to develop new ones.

At the end of the day, we understand that society’s expectations are rising, and we have high expectations too. But, it’s not simple or fast, because every decision has both foreseen and unforeseen consequences extending far beyond the product itself. A commitment to finding the answers to these new challenges requires outreach and conversation, research and discovery, planning and assigning resources and, above all, time to get it right.  We will continue to work with critical stakeholders and partners to balance agricultural, environmental and nutritional concerns and produce more sustainable, healthier food for our consumers.

Tara Acharya is Director of Global Health and Agriculture Policy at PepsiCo.  In this capacity she works with internal stakeholders and external partners to guide and develop PepsiCo’s global policies as they relate to agriculture and health. These policies are intended to help PepsiCo navigate the interface between food production, health and nutrition, and environmental issues for long-term business sustainability.

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