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Sustainability and ESG Data in the Food Industry – An Emerging Risk

Food companies are facing new expectations for communicating their economic, social and environmental performance to clients.

Various foods laid out

July 20, 2020

The challenge of sustainability in the food industry

The three main sectors of the food industry, agriculture, food processing and food retail, are seeing similar but different pressures to run more sustainable businesses and report progress to clients.

Food processing companies, often with their own consumer brands, are facing demands for data and progress from upstream business partners while also needing to make their own demands downstream.This position in the supply chain makes these firms central to the delivery of a sustainable food production industry. However, many are without dedicated sustainability teams. Therefore, responsibility for sustainable business transformation often falls to the operations director, and non-financial data requests make their way to the finance teams.

Often, these teams don’t know where to start their sustainability journey, and these requests are often added to the “too difficult” or “not urgent” pile. The consequences of poor sustainability reporting or performance in the food sector are significant. A simple lack of data or knowledge of sustainability reporting can damage trust, supplier scores and ultimately reduce business potential with retailers and brands. Failure to report data at all may get you de-listed and your products removed from shelves.


Unfortunately, complexity is rising. There are over 90 mandatory carbon reporting schemes throughout the world, plus a plethora of options for sustainability improvements. In the past, teams may be forgiven for inaction, however, there are now serious legal implications for noncompliance in some jurisdictions, up to and including imprisonment.

For decades, many large brands and retailers have been working on sustainability and digitizing related processes. In the last few years, their processes have become mature enough for buyers to be empowered to take decisive and meaningful action against suppliers for poor sustainability credentials. These actions are especially true in the food sector, where large retailers regularly request sustainability data. UL now works with many retailers using the data for supplier selection and the bar is slowly being raised.


The legal and business implications of sustainability performance are crystalizing. However, budgets and action remain challenging to secure. This is where data comes in. Data is the bedrock of any sustainability journey and the best place to start. Our customers tell us that accurately reporting their non-financial data has never been more important. In addition to meeting demands from investors, clients and regulators, data helps underpin and measure action and progress.


Whether your sustainability focus is improving human rights, looking after our environment, embracing diversity or other topics, these changes are based on timeless principles of fairness, honesty and trust.

Since 1894, UL has helped build trust through supply chains. Our traditional testing, inspection and auditing work has always been about trust. Today, we increasingly help our customers build trust with digital services and with this digitization comes speed and accuracy.


UL’s 360 world-leading software enables businesses to gather, measure, report and act on key sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) data across their organizations while aligning with frameworks such as Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) and the United Nations (UN) for example.

Some of the largest global food brands trust UL’s 360 investmentgrade non-financial reporting software for their own reporting needs and their supply chain. Whether you’re just starting your sustainability journey or an established reporter, UL’s portfolio of solutions and team of sustainability experts can help you choose the right level of investment and product suitability.

We can help you with:

  • Supply chain management 
  • Sustainability and ESG reporting 
  • Carbon reporting
  • Advisory services
  • Implementation

Get in touch

Find out how UL can help your business with sustainability and ESG reporting


Get in touch

Find out how UL can help your business with sustainability and ESG reporting

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