Sustainable Food Lab in 2016

Dear colleagues,


Any of us with sustainability in our job descriptions can look back with pride or look forward with some trepidation. The launch of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals and the climate agreement in Paris remind us all of the critical role of agriculture in global sustainability solutions. As CEOs make new commitments to add to those already made, sustainability is very much on every organization’s agenda, and most organizations face an implementation gap.

Looking back, it’s easy to see progress. In 2004, Sustainable Food Lab was launched by a diverse group of leaders to “shift sustainability from niche to mainstream.” Twelve years later we can point to a large and growing proportion of food produced under public sustainability targets, supply chain programs, or certifications.

Yet, if we measure “mainstreaming sustainability” by impacts on the ground, we’re a long way from success. This gap has two dimensions. The first is that we don’t have much data. What difference have these programs and certifications actually made? The second dimension is that many sustainability challenges can’t be solved with supply chain programs or commodity certifications alone. What are required are effective partnerships among diverse players in key agricultural regions around the world. Water shortages or deforestation, for example, cannot be fully addressed with supply chain programs. In fact, these challenges need not just business and NGO engagement, but also governments.

So we haven’t finished our job yet. The next dozen years will include work on impact measurement, continual organizational change to embed sustainability among business goals, and collaboration in sectors and regions.

More and more the challenge before us is not one of why, not one of where, but increasingly one of how: Sustainable Food Lab community has recognized the power of working through value chains—with deep farmer engagement—to accelerate change towards a more sustainable food system.

The Lab brings organizations together to accelerate progress towards a more sustainable food system while growing system leadership, within organizations and in collaborative action initiatives. One way the Lab supports systems leadership is through our Annual Leadership Summit. In 2016, we will host the Summit in Arusha, Tanzania, November 6-11. Please save the date.

Food Lab staff engage with partner organizations in three ways:

  1. Consulting to support food and beverage companies to operationalize goals and commitments, and to support the effectiveness of NGOs and public agencies that work with businesses. The Lab team provides strategic planning and goal-setting, meeting design and facilitation, and supply chain summits.
  2. Collaborative Initiatives at the landscape or sector levels, including the Sustainable Vanilla Initiative for Madagascar, a Small Grain Initiative in the Midwest U.S., and an Organic Grain Collaboration.
  3. Communities of Practice for tools and frameworks, including the Cool Farm Alliance, the Shared Approaches Framework for smallholder performance measurement, and a Business Learning Hub on Landscape Approaches.

When a group of 30 pioneering leaders launched Sustainable Food Lab in 2004, they needed to convince people in their organizations WHAT sustainability meant and WHY sustainability was important. Now the momentum is about delivery.


Hal Hamilton
Food Lab co-director

Sustainable Food Lab

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