Sustainability skin in the game

In a shift from tradition, Syngenta has this week issued a Sustainable Business Report for 2017 ( Sustainable Business Report )which replaces the more traditional and market focused, Annual Report.  The Sustainable Business Report includes quantitative and qualitative information on policies and actions taken regarding the business and its corporate responsibility goals.  It also serves as the annual Communication on Progress (COP) for the United Nations Global Compact.

The shift is also a tangible sign of life under the company’s new owner, ChemChina.  With the acquisition completed, Syngenta delisted from the New York and Zurich exchanges and this has given the flexibility to take a longer term view on how the company is contributing to addressing the wider societal challenge of safely feeding the world while taking care of the planet.

Of particular interest in the report is the section entitled “The Future of Food” which goes to the heart of the challenge – of society expecting farmers to feed the world – with population growing by 200,000 people every day – while making sure that the food we eat is safe and nutritious, the communities which produce it are vibrant, while the price we pay for food is reasonable.  And all the while, making sure that the current model of agricultural production does not adversely impact on the environment.

The challenge is not just to grow more, but to grow it differently: with fewer inputs, lower impacts and higher quality. If humanity is to be sustainable, its food supply has to be sustainable too.”

The report explores the important role that innovation must play in meeting the challenge – in chemistry, in seed and digital, development is speeding up the time to market  and is driving new and different collaborations as well as helping to build momentum for delivering biological solutions at scale.  This is important because with society’s increasing appetite for organic production (especially here in Europe), yields can be 30% lower which means that if this is a choice that society continues to make we must find ways to make organic production more efficient.

The overarching message here is that no one agricultural system holds all of the answers.  Instead it makes more sense to align around a shared vision for sustainable agriculture and acknowledge that different systems, co-existing can help deliver the outcomes we desire.

What I find interesting in the report (and confession, I was involved in its production), is that it is not just about Syngenta – quite the contrary, it sets out the issues that sustainable agriculture and food production currently face and only then, examines the contribution that Syngenta is making.

We must first seek to understand before we seek to solve. Companies like Syngenta have a key role to play, but we too all have a responsibility to understand the role that they and we must play.  No one company, government or NGO has the answers, but together we can find the solutions to the challenges we face.

The Sustainable Business Report sets out the company’s performance in Crop Protection and Seeds with a particular focus on innovation and new product development, clearly showing that marking time is not the answer. We must continue to invest and to innovate – as the challenge to address insect and disease resistance demonstrates on a daily basis.

A deep dive into the company’s performance delivering against the targets set down in the Good Growth Plan shows that momentum is building.  After a slow start, the company is on track to achieve or exceed its goals under making crops more efficient, rescuing farmland on the brink of degradation, helping biodiversity to flourish, empowering smallholders, helping people stay safe and looking after every worker. It prompts the question, what next for the Good Growth Plan and how can this momentum be carried into the Good Growth Plan 2.0?

Watch this space perhaps…

As a Sustainable Business Report, the company also reports on its own business operations and here we see improvements in personal injury rates, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from operations, reduced water use and a reduction in hazardous waste intensity – all pleasing stuff.  The company also continues with its extensive program of local community engagement which is crucial to its license to operate. In 2017 community investment totaled $23 million.

Removed from the strictures of financial reporting (the company does continue to publish its results on its website), the Business Sustainability Report has enabled the company to discuss its performance much more in the context of the need for a new approach to agriculture – where the long view prevails and where different agricultural systems can co-exist to meet the challenges we face.

I have often said that farmers are the best environmentalists I know, because unlike anyone else they have real skin in the game – financial, professional, emotional and environmental. The Syngenta Sustainable Business report shows that Syngenta too, has skin in the sustainability game.

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