Today more than ever, society needs committed and creative leaders and leading organisations to promote a world in which economic development can be attained for the benefit of all while conserving the planet's natural capital and improving people's living conditions. Whilst the challenges for the 21st century of providing good standards of living for 7 billion people without depleting the earth’s resources are formidable, there are also significant associated opportunities.

Sustainable development provides the ideal framework to build a society where economic, ecological and societal aims are in balance. This framework requires that we assign economic value to the use of environmental services and to biodiversity. Business is extremely well positioned to play an active role in addressing these issues. A sustainable approach to business success means understanding and respecting the ecological rationale of using inputs for the food and beverage industry, such as water, agricultural products, land and energy. It is paramount to adopt a long-term sustainability approach to the world’s challenges. In fact, integrating and mainstreaming sustainability considerations in the business is destined to become the only way of doing business into the future.

Some might argue today that growth and sustainability are in conflict. However, some daring companies are leading the way and have contributed their knowledge to prove the contrary. This guide is a testimony that includes such leading initiatives. The survival and growth of many companies will depend largely on decoupling growth from environmental footprint, while increasing positive social impact. We need to aim for sustainable, equitable growth, and to accept the fact that sustainability can actually drive growth.

Strategic innovation for sustainability, that is innovation that takes account of longer-term sustainability considerations, is the answer for long-term business success and for building a sustainable society. By looking at product development, sourcing and manufacturing with a sustainability filter, there are opportunities, not only for cost reduction, but also for innovation. Sustainable agricultural sourcing is part of this framework and for this reason, many important organisations concerned with this issue have come together to publish this guide. This fact is in itself very encouraging. However, while a lot of work has already been done in this area (contributing to what is documented in this guide), much remains to be done.

This guide is a testimony of the commitment of leading companies towards sustainability. It shows that society needs the collective knowledge of all players. No single company can achieve a fully sustainable agricultural sourcing program on its own. This document represents an invitation for other companies to adopt sustainability at the core of their business strategies, and to build on what others have achieved so far. In reading the guide, it becomes apparent that for a sustainable future, the needs of citizens and communities must in future carry the same weight as the demands of shareholders. In using the guide, managers will understand how to exploit the business case for sustainable agricultural sourcing, and the processes necessary for more sustainable sourcing solutions into the future.

Professor Francisco Szekely, IMD Sandoz Chair for Sustainability Leadership and Director of IMD’s Global Center for Sustainability Leadership

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