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How Food Companies Can Better Measure Their Sustainability

Despite the growing demand for sustainable food, many companies hesitate to set ambitious environmental goals, as transparently measuring and reporting environmental performance is time consuming and costly.

Environmental traceability, namely the ability to track the environmental impact of a product along the supply chain, can help streamline and improve the process, and we have identified several strategies that can enhance its effectiveness. Traceability can enhance both the transparency and efficiency of environmental reporting by tracking a food product's impact throughout production, processing, and distribution, and automating environmental data exchange between companies using digital technologies.

Based on a comprehensive review of environmental reporting, we recommend four strategies firms can adopt to increase environmental traceability and hence the business value of high environmental performance. Two of us - Lili Jia and Steve Evans, from the Centre for Industrial Sustainability, University of Cambridge - have developed standardized environmental metrics with harmonized assumptions, principles, and frameworks to rigorously measure environmental impacts of food companies in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, water use, material efficiency, and waste.

Based on standardized environmental metrics, the data can then be represented in a unified data description language, such as Extensible Markup Language. Transparent environmental reporting will set up rigorous industry standards to facilitate the diffusion of good environmental practices.

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