Henry Eastick Written by Henry Eastick

Sustainability goals: focus on collaboration, not competition

Sustainability goals have never been more important to businesses. Here, we explain how they should be unique to each business but should focus on a collaborative, rather than a competitive, approach.

Meeting suppliers in India in sugar beet field

Meeting sugar cane growers in India to maintain transparent supply chains. 

Sustainability goals often driven by competition

Sustainability goals are no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, instead, they are very much in the ‘must-have’ category. The world has evolved, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) requirements and ambitions have evolved with it.

For example, every time you read a newspaper you see a different brand announcing new sustainability plans, usually concerning the reduction of carbon emissions. ‘Net-zero by 2030’, ‘Carbon neutral next year,’ or even ‘Carbon negative within a decade’ are typical headlines that we see on a daily basis. It almost feels like a competition.

In fact, it could be. According to this source, 62% of executives consider a sustainability strategy necessary to be competitive today. This is partially true, of course, as the rise of ethical consumerism and other market forces put pressure on businesses to announce and implement sustainability plans.

However, competitive advantage should not be the sole reason for committing to CSR. Businesses’ commitment must run deeper than that.

Competition can only take CSR so far

It is certainly true that competition and market pressures have helped sustainability become a vital mainstream issue, and they will continue to play an important role in driving sustainability initiatives going forward, simply because consumer demands will always be a potent reminder for businesses to improve their operations.

But competition can only help businesses achieve so much when it comes to CSR. This is because consumers can see through lip service or unrealistic targets, which some may even go as far as to call ‘greenwashing’.

So, there is now an onus on businesses to move past thinking of sustainability as a competitive differentiator and instead focus on why they are doing it: to work towards a common goal.

Collaboration can help businesses individually and collectively

What exactly is this common goal? Most would agree that it relates to the creation and implementation of sustainable business operations that protect the planet and enable businesses, industries and markets to exist today and for future generations.

But while this is the common goal, the road to supporting it is different for every organisation. Each business is unique, so it is impossible to compare sustainability plans and measurements like-for-like.

On a processing plant in Barbados

Auditing the Gardel sugar mill in Guadeloupe, to ensure standards are met.

At Ragus, we are working towards this common goal but are also committed to being authentic and realistic in our approach. For example, we were among the first sugar companies to work with organic and Fairtrade supply chains that directly impacted on the wellbeing of farmers and their local communities. Although the global pandemic has prevented it recently, we take regular trips to visit the growers of our sugar, both in the UK and across the globe, to ensure our impact is positive.

Logos of organic, fairtrade, bonsucro and sedex

We display these badges to let our customers know that we meet the standards of these organisations and are dedicated to a more ethical, sustainable future.

We accept that plans take time to create, implement, measure and review, and our ambition is to make lots of small changes, like visiting our growers, that make a big impact. However, we also understand that sustainability is a complex issue. The challenges the food and beverage industry face are not going away, and they are not getting any smaller. And some of the most effective solutions to these challenges are through collaboration.

We realised we could reduce carbon emissions by sharing smaller deliveries with other suppliers, rather than using our own lorries but sending them half full. So, just short of 20 years ago, we transferred business to wholesalers so full lorry loads are delivered to a depot and then split into separate orders and our product is delivered to customers alongside their other supplies. For example, a baker will receive our sugar along with yeast, flour and butter, all transported and delivered in one journey. This is just one example of collaboration that made us more efficient and reduced carbon emissions, but there are many other ways to work together towards sustainability.

How can collaboration work in practice?

The most important point about collaboration is that it brings opportunities for all to benefit from, with two recent examples from the food and beverage industry demonstrating how it can be achieved in innovative ways.

The first is Mars. In partnership with sustainability consultancy, Guidehouse, the confectionery giant formed a new coalition that aims to mobilise its suppliers into climate action by empowering them with the knowledge, resources and tools to develop their own unique climate plans.

“With our extended supply chain accounting for over 94% of our emissions, it’s crucial we also partner with our suppliers to drive broad transformations and mitigate our collective impact on climate change,” said Mars Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer, Barry Parkin.

There are other ways of promoting sustainability collaborations too, though. Tesco, for example, recently announced that from September it will be offering finance incentives to its suppliers to encourage them to commit to science-based emissions reduction targets. According to Tesco’s Chief Product Officer, Ashwin Prasad, the programme “will embed sustainability goals throughout our supply chain and support the UK in realising its climate change targets.”

So, both companies have managed to balance each supplier’s unique business needs with their wider sustainability ambitions. They are leading the way in showing us that by focusing on collaboration, not competition, we can drive individual and collective sustainability improvements that create a better working world for all.

Ragus understands, and engages with, the sustainability challenges facing itself and the food and beverage industry. To find out more about our commitments, visit our responsibility page. To speak with a member of our team, contact us on +44 (0)1753 575353 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.