Sustainability was originally synonymous with being “green.” Improving and protecting the environment was the initial driver for both consumers and business. Today, consumers view sustainability more holistically, incorporating interconnected sets of issues tied to being a responsible consumer and responsible citizen. While sustainability still maintains a strong association with environmental attributes, today’s definition can also include health and wellness, animal welfare, treatment of workers, food waste, packaging, impact on local and indigenous communities, and a range of additional issues that impact people, animals, and the planet.
A variety of interest groups and other organizations are harnessing the increased interest in the evolving definition of sustainability to capture opportunity or promote a specific agenda. In a recent review, The Center for Food Integrity identified more than 250 separate attributes of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. As a result, a new and growing challenge is the focus on a single ingredient, process or practice without accounting for the potential impact on the entire food system. The challenge for many food system stakeholders is recognizing the interrelated nature of food production systems and the lack of a framework for understanding, evaluating and communicating the impacts and tradeoffs of individual decisions on the entire food system.