Global Warming as Next Challenge for Livestock

Cattle farming: 14.5% of global GHG emissions
Global Warming as Next Challenge for Livestock
Publ. date 15 Dec 2014
The livestock sector is under scrutiny. Food scandals and the current bird flu outbreak have drawn the public’s critical attention to the sector with concerns focusing on food safety, food integrity and animal welfare. Meanwhile, a much lesser known fact is that greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock production are estimated to account for over 14.5 percent of the global total output, exceeding the amount of emissions produced from powering all the world’s road vehicles, trains, ships and aeroplanes combined. This emerging topic appears to have ducked the radar of consumers, which poses the question: what can the sector do to prevent the next reputational scandal from happening?

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Livestock sustainability encompasses both social and environmental issues

At present, the sustainability debate is heavily dominated by animal welfare, primarily as a consequence of the effective approach of NGOs such as Eurogroup for Animals, International Coalition for Animal Welfare and Wakker Dier. Nonetheless, the sustainability impact of the sector goes beyond social issues such as food safety, food integrity, and animal wellbeing. In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published the report Livestock’s Long Shadow, which provided the first real evidence of the impact of livestock from an environmental perspective focusing mainly on green house gas (GHG) emissions. Although the broad public is not (yet) fully aware of the impact of livestock on global warming, the sector itself has meanwhile started to take action to address this non-financial risk by developing standards and approaches that will contribute to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. Please have a look below this page, to download the paper 'Livestock - Climate Change's Forgotten Sector' for more key data.

Two global existing sustainability initiatives in the livestock sector 

1) The dairy industry's initiative: The Global Dairy Agenda for Action
The Global Dairy Agenda for Action (GDAA) founded in 2009, is a multi-stakeholder initiative in which the dairy industry committed to actively reducing GHG emissions and also took the opportunity to profile the efforts of the sector to reduce GHG emissions throughout the value chain. The Dairy Sustainable Framework, a program initiated by the GDAA, was created as a response to the necessity to evolve from an approach only focused on GHG emissions, to one able to tackle sustainability issues in the sector in a complete and holistic way. 

The Dairy Sustainable Framework aligns global existing initiatives, supports different types of approaches on a global or regional level and emphasizes the necessity for continuous improvement. The resulting framework that has been published last year comprises of eleven global issues, to be used by individual companies as a ‘menu’ from which they are expected to select the priorities for their scope of operations in the regions they operate. The first projects that originate from the Dairy Sustainable Framework approach have been set into motion. Currently New-Zealand, the United States and the Netherlands are rolling out the Dairy Sustainable Framework into concrete projects. 

2) The beef industry’s initiative: The Global Round Table for Sustainable Beef
A very recent initiative that brings together different actors in the livestock sector to jointly commit to decrease the negative impacts of the industry, is the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). GRSB was launched in 2012 with the goal to develop and promote greater adoption of sustainable beef practices leading to science-based, measurable outcomes through a global multi-stakeholder initiative.

In November 2014, GRSB published its Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Beef. Although the process carefully requested for public comments and reviews on an earlier concept, the principles were condemned after release. A group of 23 NGOs publicly criticized the report as “nothing more than an attempt to pass off ‘business as usual’ farming as ‘sustainable’", and the incident has been framed as an 'industry greenwash attempt’ according to reputation experts.

Key learnings from stakeholder engagement

As the above mentioned examples demonstrate, a sustainability approach that is pro-active and driven by stakeholders can be a powerful instrument to address the sector’s challenges. To be successful, it is key to define the must-win battles and address stakeholders’ main concerns, both on industry level as well as by individual companies. Clever public relations and corporate messaging won’t do the trick; focusing on the right issues, setting targets that challenge the status quo and communicating transparently, will do. Continuous improvement of performance fuelled by industry benchmarks can be an efficient tool to raise the bar.

Three pitfalls to avoid during the implementation of a sustainability approach 

  1. Not all stakeholders are created equal: Involvement of stakeholders is something to think over carefully before you begin. Do you want to consult them to know what they think is most relevant, and build your strategy based on their priorities? Or do you want to discuss your definite plans to ask for input? Managing expectations will define if stakeholders are truly engaged and won’t misuse the information you’ve trusted them with.
  2. Starting communications without internal alignment: Since authenticity is key to build trust with stakeholders, start at the beginning. Don’t commence with PR messaging without clear targets and a roadmap describing how to get there: “walk the talk, and talk the walk”
  3. Communicate openly and be transparent about your progress: If targets are not being met, explain why you’re not on track and show which actions you will take to catch up. In case you did deliver on targets, raise the bar rigorously to prevent backfiring.

How to develop a pro-active sustainability approach?

If you’re looking for insights on how your company can address non-financial issues with a systematic sustainability approach, please contact Josée van der Hoek, strategic issues management specialist, at josee@finchandbeak.com or call +31 6 28 02 18 80.

Photo credits: Democratic Underground 

        About Josée van der Hoek

        Experienced strategic issues management specialist with expertise in strategy development, food waste and DJSI. | josee@finchandbeak.com

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