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Human Welfare Tops Sustainability Concerns

Sustainability continues to be a top priority for many consumers, but the issues they are most concerned about have shifted this year, with a growing focus on human welfare.

The COVID-19 pandemic that upended life as we know it has driven much of the change of focus, according to Illuminate™ Digital Cultural Insights from The Center for Food Integrity. Recent events have drawn the public’s attention to the health and safety of workers in the food system, such as those employees affected by outbreaks of COVID-19 and equality issues.

“Farms and food companies may not have considered human welfare as a sustainability issue before, but it is critical to make it a priority and ensure that stakeholders, including employees and customers, are involved in the process,” said Terry Fleck, CFI’s executive director.

Consumers worry that food production exploits labor, especially when sourcing ingredients from developing nations or employing migrant workers, the research found. Consumers worry food producers focus on “creating wealth” for stockholders more than “human welfare,” even though food is a human right and need. ​

Organizations should communicate how they are approaching human welfare, such as committing to fair sourcing or putting systems in place to make sure employees are safe and that their voices are heard.

“We’ve got a great sustainability story to tell,” Fleck said. “However, it’s important that we look through a consumer lens and not necessarily the lens we are used to looking at these issues.”

Food waste is a growing sustainability concern, too, because it involves both protecting the environment and promoting human welfare, according the report developed by MotivBase, an ethnographic research tool using artificial intelligence. Connecting with consumers about sustainability could mean highlighting on-farm conservation practices for reducing food waste by taking materials that may have been discarded in the past and reusing them through processing.

The influencers in this space are highly motivated to make the world a better place – although their profile might surprise you.

“They believe their purchasing habits are the most effective means of driving positive change. They’re not radicals, they are probably not out protesting, What these consumers are doing is thinking about how they can change their consumption and choices to improve the state of the environment,” said Cheryl Auger, a researcher with MotivBase. CFI and MotivBase partner throughout the year to provide digital ethnography research, analysis and strategic guidance on important food system topics to CFI members.

Six sustainability issues are emerging, according to the research. The full report is available to CFI members.

CFI can help with its suite of free resources available through our Optimizing Sustainability program.  It offers three models to set sustainability priorities, evaluate tradeoffs and respond to requests for commitment. Hands-on workshops and training are also available.

Members of CFI have access to the full Illuminate: The Future of Sustainability report and webinar through the member portal. For more information about Illuminate or Optimizing Sustainability, contact Terry Fleck.