MBA Research

Trend #31: Sustainability and Healthy Living

Business Trend

As consumers grow more health savvy, their demand for local, natural, and organic food choices continues to increase. In addition, these same consumers are learning more about where their food is coming from, and they are disenchanted with the ways our current food system is taxing environmental and social structures. This month’s trend explores how business practices are changing in response to these demands and realities, in hopes of providing consumers with the foods they want within a sustainable food system. 

Workplace Implications

The interdependency of environmental, social, and economic systems involved in the food supply are complex and not always easily navigated. Close collaboration all along the food supply chain is vital in creating sustainability, especially when the focus is on unprocessed, fresh, or natural food products which have a shorter shelf-life than their preserved counterparts. 

The organic and farm-to-table movements have been major players in sustainability efforts. While organic food has become widely accessible in grocery store aisles, it can be costly, presenting a barrier for many consumers. The farm-to-table movement, however, which emphasizes locally grown food choices, (e.g., farmers markets) have proven, in many cases to be a more affordable choice. Still, challenges exist in cost-effective sustainable food production, and businesses are charged with meeting demands of stakeholders and consumers in both areas. 

Proactive businesses are making changes, both major and minor, that align them more closely with sustainable models. Among them are:

  • Adopting the value of sustainability as part of their company mission
  • Closer management of supply-chain efficiencies
  • Sourcing from, and partnering with, local smallholders and suppliers
  • Increased attention to carbon footprints 
  • Developing and utilizing packaging that is reusable, recyclable, and/or biodegradable
  • Implementing employee and consumer education regarding sustainable food production and delivery practices

 

Many production processes can be complicated by evolving definitions of sustainability and growing government regulations that can shift based on locale, discouraging some companies from participating in the movement entirely. However, as consumers continue to influence the market, participation will be harder and harder to avoid.  

Lastly, companies are asking themselves: How are we doing? Are we making a difference? Efforts to increase sustainability need to be tracked using metrics that can indicate the level of progress towards more sustainable operations.  

Implications for students

Students can benefit from studying and learning about real-world examples of food growth, production, and distribution from beginning to end. This would include the source of raw materials, land and agricultural issues, supply-chain management, transportation and delivery logistics, processing and manufacturing, packaging, marketing, pricing, and consumer consumption habits. Choosing a food item at the point of sale, and tracing it back to the point of origin would prove eye-opening.  

In addition, students could be asked to consider the following in an effort to emphasize company and individual roles in food sustainability: 

  • How does what we eat affect our health and our environment?
  • What challenges do we face in becoming more sustainable?
  • How can we provide more food more sustainably?
  • How can we contribute to a more sustainable food system?