Planting Seeds for the Future of Food 2017

BSL Partner Aileen Ionescu-Somers plants a seed by moderating a workshop at Nestlé conference on 6 & 7 July, 2017

Food is important to everybody, I think we all agree. We need to eat to live – fact. Moreover, we all feel emotional about food. What is the most photographed subject on Facebook, and by far?  You got it: it’s food! Yet few of us understand the complexities of our food system and the array of dysfunctionalities that affect sustainable food access and security, affordability and appropriate use of food for optimum nutrition and health benefits. The question of food sustainability raises some tough questions, some of which were addressed at Nestlé’s recent Planting Seeds for the Future of Food conference held in the Nestlé conference center on 6 and 7 July. BSL partner and Google Food Lab participant Aileen Ionescu-Somers moderated a workshop on Proximity, Transparency and Connectivity through Technology at this highly informative and interactive event.

The conference theme – the future of our food system – was assessed through a razor-sharp questioning process with one dominant and highly relevant question on the agenda: “How can we match consumer demand for healthy and sustainable diets with the productive capacity of future sustainable farming systems?“  There is no doubt that this question is a tough and complex one, relating to the food system as a whole, so the organizers broke it down into logical individual components: Why is soil health and landscape biodiversity important for producing healthy plants, animals and food?  How can biology and technology contribute to increasing yields to feed the world population, while reducing negative social and environmental impacts? Can we define and positively influence the kind of nutrition that we wish our food system to deliver? What are the challenges to overcome in our food systems with increasing urbanization? How can we prevent the current massive food losses & food waste so as to improve our food system and overall nutritional benefits? What role should processed food have in the nutritional mix for tomorrow’s consumers? Is the idea of personalized nutrition moving from niche to mainstream? And so many more…

All in all, the conference led to some compelling conclusions on what is needed from our food system in the future. Watch out for future blogs from Aileen on these very topics.

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Active in thought leadership, consulting, applied research, teaching and supervising DBA candidates in sustainability & responsibility.

Responsible sourcing at Nestlé – BSL students learn first-hand about key elements of corporate sustainability

As all of us working in this field know, sustainability is highly complex, requiring an understanding of multiple disciplines, many of which rather technical. Additionally, there’s a big gap between theory and practice, especially when attempting to transform existing companies and systems that were not built with sustainability in mind.

In our case, after 5 classes of “Business Responsibility & Sustainability”, covering principles, natural and planetary boundaries, human dimensions, major programs like SDGs and MDGs, the role of businesses, stakeholder models and management, including role plays on how companies create conflict and how to resolve them – it was time to see how it all works in practice.

Early January, we were fortunate to be received by Dionys Forster (Sourcing specialist, department of corporate agriculture) and Diarmuid O’Connor (Global manager, agricultural raw materials) at the Nestlé HQ in Vevey.

Given the size and complexity of Nestlé (over 300k employees, 190 countries, thousand of brands and many more products), we had to focus, in the case of our visit on rural development and responsible sourcing of agricultural products, especially milk, cocoa, coffee. This of course means that many other topics with high sustainability relevance, such as processed food, added sugars, bottled water, palm oil, pesticides and many others, were not discussed during this visit.

What we saw and discussed was highly sophisticated, well designed and effectively implemented. Here are a few highlights:

  • Planetary boundaries and Terrestrial biodiversity were used to introduce the subject, similarly to how we started our own class two months ago.
  • Nestlé, with 1.7% world market share, is the biggest player in a highly distributed market, top 20 companies collectively accounting for only 9%. This means, to make a big difference, working with competitors is required.
  • Social media analysis reveals that people are concerned about food quality, climate change, packaging, animal welfare.
  • To make sourcing more responsible, Nestlé implemented Farmer Connect, directly sourcing from 760’000 farmers, ensuring almost total product traceability, offering training (400’000 farmers trained) and limiting price volatility (a major benefit for farmers, allowing them to better plan ahead).
  • A broad sustainable agriculture initiative (SAIN) aims to reduce waste and pollution, better use water, reduce greenhouse gases through technology dissemination, financial support for farmers, buying clubs, price stability, education, training, and advocacy.
  • RISE (Response-Inducing Sustainability Evaluation) is a questionnaire-based tool developed at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, rapidly identifying problem areas, allowing to better focus improvement efforts.
  • “Dairy for you” is an education program offering differentiated training for workers, specialists, managers, and graduates, by setting up a local institute or working with a local university.
  • At Nestlé Nutrition, baby food requires much lower limits of pesticide, lead, cadmium, mercury etc. residues – Nestlé applies the same (strictest) standards around the world, even in countries where not legally required.
  • In Ghana, to reach the majority of farmers who don’t read or write, a local theater play with characters representing good farmer / bad farmer is used to develop local community knowledge – and at the same time improve raw material quality and safety
  • A key issue in agriculture is succession – worldwide, the average farmer age is 60, in the US 65, in Japan 77; and specifically making farming attractive for the young generation. Nestlé has been working with many farmers for 2 or 3 generations, but the issue remains.

This reminds me of an excellent article published in the NYTimes “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers”, showing how the design of our food system, among many other issues, also makes farming unattractive for young generations.

Therefore we thank again Dionys Forster and Diarmuid O’Connor, not only for receiving us so well, but for doing so much to make sourcing more responsible.

Author: Sascha Nick, Associate Professor at BSL

How to negotiate for Ethics in a Crisis: The Greenpeace-Nestlé case

In March 2010 food-giant Nestlé had to learn the hard way, how to (not) react to a hostile NGO attack: Greenpeace had released a video that made the link between palm oil used in Nestlé’s Billion-Dollar-Brand KitKat and the destruction of rain forests in Indonesia that kills Orangutans.

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/kitkat/

The video was shocking and went viral in no time. Nestlé’s first reaction was to prohibit Greenpeace to show the video on the internet. A bad move in the world of social media, because this even multiplied the interest in the video. This was probably even wanted by Greenpeace because consequently the campaign gained an unbelievable momentum: Internet users kept sharing the video and as a sign of solidarity even used the logo of the Greenpeace campaign (the KitKat brand logo modified into Killer) as their Facebook profile picture.

Of course, Nestlé did not actively kill orangutans, like the video suggested. The problem was created deep down in their supply chain. Palm oil is cultivated in South-East Asia and it is an ingredient of about 50% of all products that we buy on a daily basis: Shampoo, cookies, lipstick, ice-cream. It is virtually everywhere. It is cheap, it grows fast, it does not have a strong taste, it keeps chocolate solid at room temperature. One hectare of palm oil will give you six tons of oil. In comparison: one hectare of soy only generates a yield of one ton of oil. No wonder the world’s hunger for palm oil is ever increasing. Consequently, cultivators of palm oil actually do cut down rain forests in order to set up huge mono-cultural palm oil plantations, thereby destroying the habitat of orangutans. However, they also lift people out of poverty and build schools and hospitals. Palm oil and deforestation is a classical « wicked problem », i.e. it is complex, controversial, value driven, concerns many stakeholders and spans many domains (economic, social, political, legal, ethical). This is why such problems are very hard to solve.

In my class « Business Ethics and Negotiation » I confront my students with this case and then they need to figure out in a group work what had gone wrong in this case and develop a strategy for what Nestlé should do next. I ask them to imagine that they are the top-notch Ethics and CSR consultant and that they need to convince the Nestlé board.

This spring we had the great pleasure and privilege to actually receive the debriefing for the group work form the real-life world class CSR consultant who had helped Nestlé to cope with the KitKat crisis: Scott Poynton from The Forest Trust, a non-profit organization, that helps companies to improve their supply chains.

Guest-speaker Scott Poynton

Guest-speaker Scott Poynton

Scott is a hybrid between an activist and a consultant: He had realized that fighting deforestation and other sustainability disasters was more effective with companies than against them. Consequently, he became a “critical friend” to corporations in environmental trouble. Scott has helped some of the world’s leading companies to transform their supply chains for the better.

That made him the perfect mediator for Nestlé: He understood the problems multinationals have in keeping their supply chains out of trouble and he also is a trusted person at Greenpeace.

Scott shared with us that companies when being attacked by an NGO like Greenpeace often have trouble understanding the issues. This certainly was the case when Nestlé was attacked. The Nestlé top-management tried to explain to the Greenpeace spokesperson of the campaign on the phone that the company was doing a lot for the environment. Greenpeace campaigners know this kind of reaction and they usually react by saying: « They do not get it. They need more pain. » And they did get more pain, when Greenpeace campaigners dropped from the ceiling and unfolded banners during the Annual General Meeting.

This is why Scott’s first lesson for companies under NGO attack is to really understand what the issue is and what your responsibility is.

The Forest Trust helped Nestlé produce and implement « Responsible Sourcing Guidelines » with the objective to avoid sourcing palm oil that was linked to deforestation.

It turned out that many of my students’ good suggestions for change were too long-term to really help Nestlé out of the acute crises they faced: Reforestation, finding a substitute for palm oil are all good ideas, but they take too much time. Nestlé needed to get its valuable brand KitKat out of the negative headlines quickly and reach an agreement with Greenpeace that they would give them a break in the campaign.

In order to do this Scott’s second lesson is: Find common ground. This is easier said than done. The worlds and mind-sets of NGos and companies are often quite contrary. A company fighting to save the profits of very successful brands like KitKat notoriously have trouble seeing the ethical issue hidden somewhere in the product’s supply chain. At the same time, for NGO activists it is very hard to understand how you could not see it. This creates tensions. Then just throw in some pride and ego and the fact that in a corporation nobody wants to be blamed for these kinds of messes and you have an explosive mixture for a first negotiation meeting.

This is why, for Scott, one of the most important things (yes, this is lesson Nr. 3) in negotiating in heated situations is to start with the values of the persons involved. If you want to mediate between conflicting parties, you always need to genuinely believe that your negotiating partner is a reasonable, rational, and decent person. If you enter a sensitive negotiation already convinced that your counterpart is mean and evil, they will sense this instantly and the necessary basis of trust cannot even be started to be built.

Scott’s stories show very nicely that if you want to negotiate for issues around ethics and sustainability, you cannot use the standard “I win – you lose” approach to negotiation. In this approach, we only divide the cake and try to get the biggest piece of it. This does not work, when you are dealing with “wicked problems”. In these cases, concentrating on positions only leads to impasse, misunderstandings, blaming, and zero-sum games that nobody can win.

If you want to successfully negotiate conflicts around wicked problems, you need to concentrate on interests and try to create a larger cake for all parties involved. Nestlé was not interested in deforesting Indonesia and killing orangutans. They are interested in having a well functioning supply chain for good quality palm oil. In order to find out the interests of the other party, you have to stay open and not judge the other side. You have to ask the right questions to understand them, listen carefully and then you can find common ground.

Thank you, Scott, for bringing to life what my students have learned in theory and negotiation role plays in class in a way that they will remember every time they will eat a KitKat.

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoDr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

A tale of complexity and connectedness – BSL goes to Nestlé

A group of BSL students from the Bachelor, Masters and MBA programs visited Nestlé today.  The aim of the visit was to try to understand the complexity of a multinational organization like Nestlé in today’s globalized, interconnected world.

For this visit we were hosted by Nicolas Lorne, the person responsible for Promoting Corporate Culture, Values & Principles internally in Nestlé.  To start off, we visited the 6th floor of the beautiful headquarters overlooking Lac Léman in Vevey where we saw an exhibition of the Nestlé products and were able to read their communications on who they are and what they believe in as an organization.   Creating Shared Value for society is very important to this company, we heard and evidence of this commitment was very present on the 6th floor.BSL visit to Nestle
Continue reading

Business says Human Rights are not negotiable!

The 3rd annual Forum on business and human rights is underway as I write.  About 2,000 people from business, governments and civil society have come to the UN in Geneva and the discussion is riveting!

Mo Ibrahim, the Chairperson of the Forum opened up the session with good advice to all participants. The UN Guiding Principles (UNGP) on business and human rights is a great achievement, said Dr Ibrahim but now “the time has come to deliver”!

Annual processes to measure progress, monitoring systems , publication of results are necessary now and  this needs to be carried out by an independent , credible organization funded by governments, business and civil society.   “Business has a role to play to support and uphold society and civil society must drive change”- we were off to a good start. Continue reading