Tobias Bandel of Soil & More, one of the speakers at the SFS2015 in Amsterdam

Calls for more action and less talk have dominated this year’s European edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam. Speakers claimed the term ‘sustainability’ has lost its meaning. It has become more of a marketing tool for consumers than meaningful actions.

In an interview with O.W.N., Nutreco’s Corporate Sustainability Director José Villalon said, “what the trend should be focusing on is measuring and setting targets proactively to manage your business to meet those targets.” He added that’s the only path to sustainability: “We have to move now past the marketing and communication type of rhetoric into responsible accountability.”

Villalon’s words echoed those by Soil & More Managing Partner Tobias Bandell. He told O.W.N. that a sustainable process was no longer an option for companies: “It’s not something external, it’s not something nice to have, it’s your core business.”

How much is your body worth?

Bandell’s presentation on soil and sustainable agriculture also touched another hot topic at the event: the value of food. “What has happened in the last decades that made food worth nothing?” he asked the audience pointing out the contradiction in consumers who claim the food is expensive but throw some 40% of it away. In a panel discussion, Tereza Havrlandova, founder of the raw food company LIFEFOOD, noticed that people have yet to realize they need to invest in themselves. “When you buy a car you want the best oil for it. The same should be with your body and food.” Educating the consumer into the real value of food is key for the sustainability of the agricultural sector, Are we shooting sustainability in the foot?

The demand for new products for an ever-growing world population could also mean endangering the sustainable process through means of massive demand, therefore, mass-production.

Andrew Hunt is co-founder of Aduna, a company currently focusing on creating a market for the African superfood baobab. He refuses the word ‘danger’ and prefers to talk about the potential of turning this fruit into a mass-market product. It could be worth $1 billion for the eight to ten million households working in the baobab sector in Africa.

Hunt does admit there are risks, but he also says there are solutions to each one of them. “It’s going to be a long time before that baobab crop is exhausted, or that demand meets that capacity, but we need to start thinking about that today for the future.”

Judging Food by its Cover

Packaging has remained a challenge for companies wishing to go more green or sustainable. Professor Roland ten Klooster from the Dutch University of Twente told the audience it doesn’t make sense talking about sustainable packaging because it’s part of a chain, which should be 100% sustainable.

Isabelle Jenny, Sustainability Project Manager at AMCOR, also believes there is no such thing as ‘green’ packaging. “There are no fundamentally good or bad materials, but only better or worse packaging applications.” She added it’s not about the packaging, but the “product’s sustainable performance.”

Klooster and Jenny are not alone. Organic Monitor President Amarjit Sahota seems to agree with the idea that maybe there is no wide solution, only optimization. In his closing remarks, he made a suggestion about packaging, which, in fact, could have summed up the overall scope of the two-day summit: “Maybe it needs to go back to basics.”