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Symposium 2013

Proposal - Sustainable Nutrition – a key element of Sustainable Consumption

The Challenge

A growing world population and increasing living standards imply large and accelerating resource use for individual consumption. The world’s population already consumes many of the planet’s resour ...

A growing world population and increasing living standards imply large and accelerating resource use for individual consumption. The world’s population already consumes many of the planet’s resources in unsustainable ways. It seems that economic progress in developing countries will also follow this pattern. A remedy may lie in more conscious behavior by consumers: sustainable consumption.

A critical challenge for our society is to find a path towards sustainable consumption. It’s even more challenging given the context of significant global demographic and social developments:

  • Over the next 40 years, the world population will be well over 9 billion
  • Globalization will inevitably expose the food system to further economic and political pressures
  • Population growth, climate change and related potential political developments will lead to increased competition for food, water and energy

Nestlé’s articles of association state that Nestlé shall, in pursuing its business purpose, aim for long-term, sustainable value creation. We strongly believe that for a company to be successful over time and create value for shareholders, it must also create value for society. There are three areas where we can deliver most value: nutrition, water and rural development. Together with our commitment to compliance with laws and regulations, this long-term, holistic view of our role in society is fundamental to the way we do business at Nestlé.

As the world’s largest food and leading Nutrition, Health & Wellness company, Nestlé has an inherent responsibility and significant role to play in ensuring sustainable consumption through sustainable nutrition. - against the backdrop of three important questions:

  • How can the world feed a fast-growing future population, when we are challenged to adequately feed the current population?
  • How can we help address the double burden of disease with over and under nutrition together leading not only to billions of people not reaching their potential, but also to an epidemic of non-communicable diseases which the world’s health services are ill-equipped to handle?
  • How can the entire value chain, from raw materials through production, distribution and consumption be made ‘sustainable’, in terms of environmental impact, land & water usage, food waste and accessibility for all consumers?

 

To address these questions, we at Nestlé have decided to go beyond the scope of classical nutrition and food security and have developed an integrated approach for ‘Sustainable Nutrition’, which is the dimension of Sustainable Consumption where we clearly can have an impact. Our definition of ‘Sustainable Nutrition’ is:

Sustainable Nutrition involves physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food and water to fulfill dietary and cultural needs to enable an active and healthy lifestyle without compromising the ability of future generations to meet these needs.

Such an integrated approach must – to be successful – be broad-based and cover several dimensions to be effective:

  • First, Sustainable Nutrition must cover all forms of sustainability. This involves food production and consumption and nutrient security. From an economic view, it includes factors such as farmers’ income (particularly small-holders) and public health economics
  • Second, Sustainable Nutrition has to encompass the entire Value Chain: agriculture, responsible sourcing, ingredients, food processing, packaging, distribution and consumer use, right through to the product’s end-of-life. This includes food waste, not just food that’s thrown away, but waste at all steps of the value chain.
  • Third, Sustainable Nutrition means the supply of appropriate nutrients to ensure optimal human growth and development. The early years, especially the first 1000 days are particularly crucial and have an impact on the maintenance of health in later life. To prevent micronutrient deficiencies in young children, we have developed fortified products (infant cereals and milks) and we measure their public health impact using health economic tools and methods.

 

In response, and moving towards solutions, Nestlé has developed pragmatic tools that are the starting point to our integrated Sustainable Nutrition approach. Here are two examples:

  • The first tool (called Ecodex) is based on life cycle assessments. It covers the entire value chain from agriculture through production, packaging, distribution, consumption and food waste. This tool analyses five environmental impact areas: Greenhouse gas emissions, non-renewable energy & minerals, land use, water consumption and impacts on ecosphere. EcodEx allows product developers to assess the environmental impact of proposed solutions in the early phase of the development process.
  • Then, in order to link these environmental factors with nutrition, Nestlé has recently developed its Nutrient Balance tool that calculates the 30 essential nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, proteins, etc., which are required for a healthy life. This tool is used to analyse individual food products, whole meals or complete diets and also assesses potential water usage and cost impact.
  • Nestlé is continuously evaluating the nutritional quality of its portfolio to identify innovation and renovation needs. Our approach to improving the composition of our products through setting up company standard to develop tasty and healthy products, is an on-going process.

 

Together, these tools help us to apply environmental sustainability and nutrition in the research and development of new products as well as the renovation of our existing products.

The most important contributors to Sustainable Nutrition from Nestlé’s perspective are

  • Consumer communication – Nestlé has adopted an approach called ‘Beyond the Label’. This uses a QR code printed on the package that links to a website with much more detailed information about nutritional, environmental and social aspects. This system is being rolled out across a wide range of products.
  • Commodity sourcing – Agricultural raw material sourcing has been a big focus of our sustainability efforts in the last few years. We have put in place responsible sourcing programs for our key commodities. These include environmental and social safeguards, and in particular help farmers improve their productivity and sustainability performance. They also cover issues such as deforestation, child labour, water and rural development.
  • Product innovation & sustainability – Sustainability has been fully integrated into our product development process. For example, we build in factors such as farmer productivity, reducing farmer’s costs, reducing dependency on certain commodities, and reducing packaging material while improving its performance.
  • Science and sustainable proteins & nutrients – We have increased our focus in our R&D on alternative proteins and nutrients that have a lower environmental footprint. Our research is currently investigating plant proteins to identify affordable nutrition with lower water and land use impacts.

 

The Sustainable Nutrition approach outlined here is an integral part of the role Nestlé as the world’s largest food company is playing with a view to Sustainable Consumption. But we believe that a global solution can only be achieved when all major consumer goods companies pursue such an approach to jointly make a difference.

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