The fulfillment of the sustainable development goals set by the UN for 2030 is a "demanding" challenge for the agro-food sector, which has committed itself to face challenges such as reducing its emissions, reducing the use of plastics or becoming more transparent.
This has been the message conveyed by the sector within the framework of the first Sustainable Development Congress, held a couple of days ago in Madrid and organized by the Association of Large Consumption Companies (Aecoc) and the employers of the food industry (FIAB).
The general director of FIAB, Mauricio García de Quevedo, has argued that agro-food companies "have already been addressing this kind of challenges, linked to the transition to a circular economy, for some time."
"Sustainability and competitiveness must go hand in hand", stressed García de Quevedo, who mentioned commitment to innovation as a key motivation to achieve this change.
For his part, the general director of Aecoc, José María Bonmatí, pointed out that the agro-food sector is proactive in this matter, and recalled that although its activity has a positive impact on the environment, it also generates "waste and emissions, which we should try to minimize."
"What the consumers clearly demand from us is safe, quality and healthy products, but also affordable. They also have to be the result of integrating sustainability in all links of the food chain," he said.
A punishing consumer
Companies in the sector such as Nueva Pescanova, Mahou-San Miguel or the supermarket chain Veritas agree that consumers are increasingly willing to "penalize" companies that do not meet these criteria.
The CEO of Nueva Pescanova, Ignacio González, pointed out that based on their buying habits, customers are already a step ahead of the sector, and even of the legislation itself. As an example, he mentioned the reduction in the use of plastics; a consequence of people becoming increasingly aware of the issue.
The Deputy Director General for the Environment of the European Commission (EC), Joanna Drake, has admitted that there are "contradictions" in legal matters when promoting the use of recycled containers.
"We have set the objectives before first addressing the legal issues. We hope to tackle the problem with the next package of measures," said Drake during his speech, in which he said that reducing plastic use is not only the responsibility of companies. It is something that also depends on convincing the consumer to take it into account when buying and recycling.
Sustainability goes beyond the environment
The representative of the EC believes that the current consumption of plastics "is unsustainable from both an environmental and an economic perspective," and that 90% of all the plastic used today "has never been recycled."
"We are talking about 7.2 billion plastic bags. Tied together, the distance they would cover would allow you to get to the Moon and come back 5,790 times," he said.
The president of the PSOE and member of the Advisory Board of the Spanish Network for Sustainable Development, Cristina Narbona, has also participated in the congress. Compared to other countries, she described Spain's commitment to the environment and to complying with the objectives of sustainable development as strong.
For Narbona, the current approach to sustainability goes beyond the environment and also covers social inequalities, the territorial model or transparency.