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What does it mean for a food and agriculture company to be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Despite growing corporate sustainability efforts, the answer to this question remains unclear.
Companies, investors, consumers, and citizens continue to face challenges in understanding what it means for a company or an investment to be considered “sustainable” or not. The lack of a rigorous and comprehensive framework through which to assess corporate alignment with the SDGs leavescompanies without clear guidance on supporting SDG achievement. This gap also enables companies todownplay some areas of the SDGs when reporting on their sustainability performance.

This report presents a deeper iteration of that conceptual framework to guide business alignment with the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA), specifically for companies in the food and agriculture sector. We propose a Four Pillar Framework, which seeks to contribute to corporate SDG alignment by bringing rigor and clarity on the aspects of business activity that affect the SDGs. To understand how the framework might be applied to the food and agriculture sector, the report also elaborates on the key environmental, nutrition, and social & governance topics that companies in the food and agriculture sector need to tackle in order to achieve the SDGs.

The report further assesses current sustainability reporting standards, frameworks, and certifications against the Four Pillar Framework and key identified topics, exploring whether available reporting instruments sufficiently support SDG alignment. It concludes by examining how business indicators might be developed under the Framework to support its
application, using greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions as an example, and with some recommendations.
The Four Pillar Framework has been developed based on more than a year of research and consultation with diverse stakeholders, and it will continue to be refined and elaborated moving forward. It identifies four dimensions of all business activity that holistically and indivisibly impact society and the planet, as described to the right. The Framework aims at providing a tool for businesses of all sectors to align with the SDGs and the PCA. In this report, it has been specifically applied to the food and agriculture sector, and it is evolving.

1. BENEFICIAL PRODUCTS AND STRATEGIES This Pillar addresses the impact of companies’ products, services, and strategies on human well-being and the planet’s sustainability. For the food sector, this Pillar focuses on business contributions to healthy and sustainable dietary patterns through their products and strategies. This includes whether product lines are healthful, and whether product use is conducive to wellbeing and supportive of improved living standards and consumers’ life goals.

2. SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS OPERATIONS AND INTERNAL PROCESSES This Pillar considers the environmental and social impacts of business operations, including their production processes and other internal processes, with a focus on issues such as resource use (land, water, energy) and emissions, respect for human rights, diversity and inclusion, and decent work conditions that improve livelihoods of employees and their families. It also assesses whether companies encourage and reward conduct that strives to internalize externalities.

3. SUSTAINABLE SUPPLY AND VALUE CHAINS This Pillar reflects the company’s role in and responsibility for the broader ecosystem of which it is part, including its interaction with its supply chain and value chain, producers, clients, consumers, and the industry in which it operates. This pillar focuses on whether the company supports realization of the SDGs through these interactions, and whether it collaborates to promote, incentivize, and ensure more sustainable practices and better livelihoods within its own value chain as well as within the relevant industries or sectors that its operations influence.

4. GOOD CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP This Pillar refers to how companies engage externally and how they seek to influence the rules that govern them. It assesses whether companies avoid strategies that would diminish social goods or societal well-being, and whether companies value and do not undermine the crafting and effective deployment of law and policies that advances sustainable development.

Land degradation affects the food system directly by reducing productivity and reducing essential ecosystem services, such as pollination.The food and agriculture sector, in partnership with governments and civil society, must halt the expansion of agricultural land (“zero net loss”), restore landscapes, increase natural carbon sinks that absorb GHGs, and contribute to stopping terrestrial and marine biodiversity loss.

The authors are Al Khatib Maher (SCL), Antonelli Marta (Barilla Foundation), Cordes Kaitlin Y. (CCSI), Cresti Simone (SCL), Espinosa Gaëlle (UN SDSN), Ocampo-Maya Carolina (CCSI), Riccaboni Angelo (SCL), Rossi Adriana (SCL), Sachs Lisa E. (CCSI), Sachs Jeffrey (UN SDSN), Schmidt-Traub Guido (UN SDSN), Sofra Elena (SCL), and Tozzi Cristiana (SCL).