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14 June 2021 - CLG Europe’s policy briefing explores how to make food systems more sustainable by looking at solutions from production to consumption and waste, illustrated with best practices from the private sector, and provides recommendations on how EU policies, such as the Farm to Fork Strategy, can contribute to the achievement of the transition towards a sustainable food system at EU and global level.

Access the policy briefing here.

About the policy briefing

Agriculture and food production lie at the heart of Europe’s culture, society and economy and, for centuries, have helped shape its communities, its landscapes, and, critically, its relationship with the natural environment. 

Yet this proud tradition is in desperate need of change in the face of major social and environmental challenges, not least the climate crisis. Addressing these and transitioning towards a sustainable food system has become a matter of utmost urgency.

Achieving this transition is a complex undertaking involving stakeholders from all stages of the food value chain. Yet, solutions to transform production processes, encourage sustainable consumption patterns and reduce food waste do exist.

This briefing explores how to increase the sustainability of the food system, particularly in regard to environmental issues and climate change. It looks at measures across the value chain, illustrated with best practices from the private sector, and explores how EU policies, such as the Farm to Fork Strategy, could contribute to a successful the transition towards a sustainable food system at EU and global level.

Key recommendations:

  1. The Farm to Fork Strategy should align with the Europe’s wider sustainability goals. This includes the SDGs, EU’s Biodiversity Strategy’s 2030 targets to halt and reverse nature loss, and the EU’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target of at least 55 per cent by 2030 and objective of climate neutrality by 2050
  2. The future Common Agricultural Policy should support higher environmental and climate ambition, and provide the right financial incentives, in alignment with the EU Green Deal. Financial incentives tied to specific environmental outcomes and well-funded ‘eco-schemes’, alongside technical and training support, would enable farmers and agrifood to transition towards more sustainable practices and business models. 
  3. Research and innovation programmes should accelerate the transition towards greater sustainability. Well-resourced, multi-stakeholder initiatives can drive innovative solutions, disseminate best practices, stimulate further private investments and upscale applied research. 
  4. Sustainable consumption should be encouraged and markets created for sustainable food and products. Criteria for sustainable food procurement, the harmonisation of labelling schemes and the integration of elements such as the sustainable management of natural resources and climate, health and social impacts in a common definition of sustainable consumption will increase confidence in and understanding of this concept. Transparent and accountable business commitments, and tax incentives from Member States would help facilitate uptake.
  5. The sustainable food dimension of external policies, including trade and international co-operation, should be strengthened and aligned with sustainability goals. By aligning future trade agreements with the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, as well as the SDGs more broadly, the EU can avoid moving unsustainable production outside its borders and create sustainable, fair and inclusive supply chains. Global business can help ensure their supply chains are sustainable, while upcoming international conferences including the UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) and the UN Climate Summit (COP26) should be used as opportunities for the EU to push for and steer accelerated action for the global transition towards sustainable food systems.


Eliot Whittington, Director, CLG Europe said:

“The scale and pace of business commitments to make the food system more sustainable is both increasing and accelerating. With the right political framework aligned with climate objectives and the SDGs, the EU enable all actors in the value chain to step up their ambition and action and fully contribute to the transition towards a sustainable food future in the EU with huge benefits for the economy, people and nature.”

Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public & Government Affairs, Signify, and chair of CLG Europe said:

“The transition towards sustainable food is necessary to address the dual challenge of tackling climate change and the security of future food supplies. It is encouraging to see how numerous businesses are already supporting this transition throughout different stages of the value chain. To grasp the potential, food policies in the EU should provide incentives for all actors in the food value chain to develop sustainable practices and contribute to the transition towards more sustainable food systems. This transition must be aligned with the objectives of the Green Deal including the achievement of climate neutrality by 2050.”   

Sophie Punte, Managing Director of Policy, We Mean Business coalition said:

“Businesses look forward to working with the EU to translate the EU Green Deal and 2030 55% target to the food system.  While the agriculture sector is one of the more difficult to decarbonize, it can also act as a critical carbon sink and this must be a central component of any net zero pathway.  Leading businesses recommend the EU to do three things: set the bar on standards to eliminate deforestation embedded in agricultural supply chains, remove harmful agricultural subsidies that drive nature loss and climate change, and expand regenerative agriculture policies with the potential to capture carbon while creating 60 million jobs and $1.1tn in economic opportunities.”

Joe Franses, VP of Sustainability, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners said:

“Regenerating and using natural resources more efficiently are key to establishing more sustainable practices across our food system value chains. Coca-Cola pilot projects have demonstrated how more efficient water use in agricultural practices can reduce costs, reduce GHG emissions and deliver benefits for nature.”

Yann Gael Rio, Global Vice President, Agriculture Cycle, Danone said:

‘’There is no question that to make our food systems sustainable in Europe and beyond, we need to rebalance animal protein and to ensure food production regenerates rather than degrades natural resources. This is why Danone has transformed its portfolio, offering consumers plant-based options in addition to dairy. It’s also why we are working with farmers and other partners such as Farming for Generations alliance to accelerate the transition to regenerative agricultural practices. To go further, we need more collaboration, including between public and private sectors. The EU can play a leading role in driving this change.’’

Dimitri de Vreeze, Co-CEO, DSM said:

“Health for the people starts with health for the planet. To sustainably feed the world’s growing population, we urgently need to reduce the pressure on our planet. Food and agriculture policies are key to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. Businesses need the support of ambitious policies to scale up new technologies and business models that will drive towards more sustainable food systems. A key step is to reward farming with a lower environmental footprint, and to enable consumers to make well-informed sustainable food choices. The time to act is now.” 

David Ingram, Chief Procurement Officer, Unilever said:

“The ingredients for most Unilever products come from nature, so the future of our business is inextricably linked to the preservation and regeneration of natural environments. Initiatives like this [Unilever’s Regenerative Agriculture Principles] do more than just benefit the planet. To be considered successful, they should also benefit and improve the livelihoods of our farmers, their families and surrounding communities, creating a cycle of prosperity on our journey to make sustainable living commonplace.”

Bill Bien, CEO Agricultural Lighting, Signify said:

“Sustainable local food production is critical to supply an ever-growing population with fresh and healthy food while limiting agriculture’s impact on our global climate. Through innovative lighting solutions, we support famers globally to generate higher yields and produce consistently a higher crop quality, whilst using up to 50% less energy than alternative light sources. Our technology is used in high tech greenhouses, vertical farms, in sea and land-based fish farming, and poultry farming. Scaling up research and innovation on food systems in the EU is paramount for the development of innovative technologies that provide energy efficiency gains and eliminate the use of pesticides.”

Annica Bresky, CEO, Stora Enso said:

“Sustainable food systems have a key role in reaching the EU’s ambitious climate targets. Stora Enso contributes to this system change with renewable and circular solutions, such as turning sludge from our mill operations into a carbon-storing soil improver. We also develop renewable food packaging that prevents food loss and waste. For innovative solutions like these to be scaled up, business needs both ambitious and supportive policies in place.”

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Author and acknowledgements

This policy briefing was authored by Magdalena Anna Kropiwnicka, Romain Pardo, Catherine Weller and Eliot Whittington with support from Janaina Topley Lira, Marco Della Maggiore and Krisztina Zálnoky.

We would like to thank CLG Europe members, Danone, colleagues at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, including Grant Rudgley, and the We Mean Business coalition secretariat, including Dominic Gogol, Luke Pritchard and Sophie Punte for their helpful and constructive comments. We also would like to thank Robin Clegg for his contribution.


Copyright © 2021 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of the Corporate Leaders Groups, CISL, the wider University of Cambridge, or clients.

How to cite this policy briefing

University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2021). Towards a Sustainable Food Future for Europe. Cambridge, UK: CLG Europe.