26 May, 2024
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Companies paying ‘lip service’ to sustainability


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Many companies are paying “lip service” to sustainability targets according to a former boss of global consumer goods giant Unilever.

During a keynote speech to a major agribanking conference in Sydney Paul Polman said the transition for companies to be more sustainable is enormous and needs to involve the entire value chain.

“Companies need to be more courageous to set the targets that are needed,” he said.

“Frankly, many companies are setting targets that they can get away with, paying to some extent, lip service,” he said.

Under his leadership Unilever adopted a sustainable business model which included halving the environmental impact of their products.

However there have been some accusations that the company has engaged in ‘greenwashing’ too.

Mr Polman told 1600 farmers and agribusiness leaders at Rabobank’s Farm to Fork summit that tackling food waste, carbon and methane emissions and deforestation are among urgent global challenges.

He said recent scientific literature predicts crop yield will decrease by seven per cent with every degree the temperature rises and puts farmers in the driving seat for change.

“As far as our food systems are concerned, it starts with the farmer,” he said.

“Addressing the food system is central to achieving our net zero targets, as well as our biodiversity targets that the world is increasingly demanding.”

The Dutch businessman who recently moved to his own farm in England said regenerative agriculture presented a huge opportunity globally.

“In the face of the extreme weather events, regenerative agricultural practices can reduce the yield losses by up to 50 per cent,” said the former Unilever boss.

But he said the transition to a regenerative approach needs to be made more financially attractive for farmers.

“We are not getting there yet at the speed and skill needed,” he said.

One beef producer who attended the summit said the terms sustainability and regenerative agriculture are often used without any clear explanation.

“The word sustainability has been thrown around way too much and without any real definition,” said Adam Armstrong who runs around 12,000 cattle across Queensland and NSW.

“Regenerative agriculture is the same – define it.”


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