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Three Sustainability Trends for Food and Agriculture Leaders to Heed in the Lead up to COP28

November 29, 2023
By Judith Rowland

As we transition into the final months of 2023, ‘tis the season for major ESG-focused moments. NYC Climate Week wrapped in September, bringing together influential global leaders to discuss the hottest – no pun intended – topics on the climate agenda. Up next is COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which kicks off in Dubai this week.

As key stakeholders pack their bags for Dubai, there are three trends sustainability communications leaders working in the food and agriculture sector should keep in mind.

Conversations about carbon markets as a strategy to incentivize farmers to prioritize sustainability are on the rise.

Carbon markets continue to be a trending topic in sustainability-focused media. Though many reporters have shared hopeful stories about the impact carbon markets could have, significant skepticism around carbon markets still exists. One U.K.-based outlet referred to carbon markets in the dairy industry as an “unproven industry-led fix.”

As more companies in the food and agriculture sector begin to explore the feasibility of carbon markets, understanding the successes and challenges of other carbon markets can provide key learnings. BCG and other key stakeholders note that a reputable monitoring, reporting and verification framework is essential for carbon markets to be successful.

Stories of companies, organizations and governments partnering to help improve the carbon marketplace continue to routinely receive positive coverage. As the team at Forest Trends flagged in their Climate Week recap, sharing project success stories and amplifying key impact data can help counter negative press and greenhushing.

Stakeholders aim to go “beyond carbon.”

While decarbonization continues to be a prominent topic, mainstream conversation is beginning to extend beyond just reducing emissions. A key theme throughout Climate Week was the necessity of navigating environmental projects by prioritizing a whole-systems approach. For example, this year’s UN Climate Change High-Level Champions program covered topics like adaptation and resilience. This quarter has seen a rise in the usage of terms like “nature action” and “nature positive” that signal a more inclusive focus on topics important to the food and agriculture industry – including water, erosion and ecosystems – as part of a broader vision for sustainability.

As has been emphasized for several years at COP events, to be truly sustainable, environmental problems must be approached through a social equity lens. Effective, just solutions must include partnerships with impacted communities and consider people who are disproportionately impacted by environmental threats.

Communicators in the food and agriculture sector should consider how their companies’ sustainability commitments might promote nature-positive growth and consider highlighting actions they’re taking beyond carbon.

The food and agriculture sector is redoubling efforts on biodiversity.

At an event held at the New York Stock Exchange, several large global companies collaborated to unveil a new reporting framework to hold the private sector accountable for biodiversity. These recommendations, developed by the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), were released as part of Climate Week. This new voluntary framework intends to fast-track an industry shift to recognizing market interdependency and vulnerability relating to biodiversity loss. The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) both quickly announced their support, and top companies have pledged to publish aligned reports.

The announcement of this global reporting framework signals an opportunity for sustainability communicators to lean more heavily into biodiversity stories. Communicators should consider how key commitments related to regenerative agriculture might facilitate an authentic way to enter the biodiversity conversation and demonstrate a brand’s impact.

Though the stakes for sustainability storytelling have never been higher, my colleagues and I remain energized by the innovative, creative and inclusive solutions stakeholders are bringing to the table to make the food and agriculture sector more sustainable. In redoubling our focus on measurement, moving beyond carbon and leaning into themes related to biodiversity we can continue to move the needle on environmental impact.

Maddie Federici contributed to this piece.