The Internet’s most popular search engine takes only 0.97 seconds to come up with almost 84 million results on ESG.  The acronym stands for environmental and social governance and is not new. But it has undeniably gained popularity worldwide during the pandemic – at least among research companies looking to anticipate the behavior of food and beverage consumers in the coming years.

The 2021 edition of Euromonitor’s global survey, for example, found that 69% of business respondents believe that consumer concern about sustainability issues will increase post-pandemic.  An even higher percentage (72%) of respondents reported that initiatives for the so-called green agenda would be crucial to business success.

A survey of the UBS financial group on the food market also revealed similar findings last April 26. Forty percent of the 5K respondents reported their intention not to add brands that are not committed to ESG in the shopping cart. The percentage was similar to that of rejection of products due to price increases.

Consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Brazil, and China also said they were willing to pay an average premium of 9% for products with green labels. The willingness to spend more on sustainable products was even higher among 18–24-year-olds.

Another relevant UBS finding for marketing managers: greenhouse gas emissions are already among the top 4 concerns of consumers. It is second only to plastic pollution, food waste, and saturated fats. Not by chance, multinational giants in the food sector have already set dates to neutralize the carbon footprint in their supply chains. It is the case of Nespresso (2022), Starbucks (2030), and Danone (2050).

Based on these two global surveys, consumers are likely to raise the bar for social-environmental criteria in the post-pandemic period – from product labels on supermarket shelves to ESG clauses in new free trade agreements between nations.

In practice, issues such as biodiversity conservation, decent work, carbon footprint reduction, good agronomic practices, and traceability will shape the new arena of competition in the global agricultural market in the coming years. Responsibility with social and environmental issues in all agri-food chains will be decisive for the reputation and access of brands to new markets abroad.

Brazilian agriculture and cattle raising may surf this new green wave in the food market. One of the main challenges ahead, however, goes far beyond the limits of farm gates. The global market for payments for environmental services will need to take off at the same speed at which new generations include environmental responsibility at the top of their shopping lists.

Metric standardization is a prerequisite for international commodities, and it should be no different for carbon pricing.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) director Kristalina Georgieva warned the international community about this issue during her speech at the White House Climate Summit held late last month. “There are more than 60 carbon pricing mechanisms. The average price is USD 2 per ton. It needs to reach USD 75 by 2030 if we are to meet the Paris targets,” she warned.

She also stressed the urgency for the G20 countries (the world’s wealthiest nations) to set a floor for international carbon prices.  This minimum level could encourage investments in sustainable agriculture in developing countries and boost the market for payments for environmental services.

The fact is that the adoption of low-carbon agricultural systems and the conservation of native forests on rural properties can put Brazil on the road to attracting financial resources associated with ESG targets. But countries need to advance in regulatory frameworks that encourage the international carbon offset market. It could be a significant contribution of COP-26 – the next United Nations conference on climate and environment to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of the year.

The Brazilian coffee industry is an example of a sector that can reap good harvests in the ESG market. Coffee farms in the country are advancing in agroforestry systems and integrated pest management. Scientific studies have already proven the efficiency of sustainable practices both for carbon sequestration and to increase the productivity of coffee plantations.

Public policies, international cooperation, and coordination between the various links in the agro-industrial chains will be paramount for the fight against climate change to bring business opportunities for agriculture.

In this context, the Brazilian Coffee Exporters Council (Cecafé) has approved its strategic planning for the 2021-2024 cycle. Through concrete actions that promote income and social and environmental sustainability in the field, the segment will seek to bring the Brazilian coffee industry even closer to the opportunities of the ESG market – from the field to the roaster warehouses in more than 120 countries that import the national product.

Thiago Masson
CECAFÉ Sustainability Manager