Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fred Kaufman on Market Capture in the Food "Sustainable Label" Industry

This is a TED Manhattan talk...

Fred concludes through studying tomatoes and Walmart, that "these guys are not measuring sustainability. They're measuring money." In the end, he concludes how wonderful that it would be to have a real, useable "sustainability index."


  1. I know of this work. It is a group doing Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

    I wish the talk would have gone into a bit more detail.

    What it comes down to, however, is the core of this talk's point: It is impossible to give a single metric for "sustainability."

    The truth is that each system is dealing with trade-offs. Optimizing one thing tends to limit options for another, e.g., using more energy tends to reduce labor, or using less energy tends to increase land needs, etc.

    So before you clarify what it is you are trying to optimize these metrics are impossible to do clearly. Or you can say we are trying our best to balance all the trade-offs and here's where we are on each, e.g., labor efficiency, land-use efficiency, GHG emissions, energy use, pesticide use, worker rights and safety, animal welfare, whatever...

    The other problem is that somebody has to make value judgments about what should be optimized or measured, since, as the talk points out, it is impossible to measure it all. So, if Walmart et al. are coming up with their own labeling system the question I would have is will the consumers trust it? Or is this just a big waste of their time.

  2. Jason,
    Thanks for yet another insightful comment.

    It seems to me every time I go to a talk with a panel discussion, it begins by asking the presenters their definition of "sustainable." I suppose we need a number of new terms to substitute for the overused word. Some say there is no such thing as sustainable.

    In the case of marketing, as for Walmart, I'd guess they know exactly what they're doing, whether its worth their time, and what the return on the effort is. As the largest supermarkets have watched "organic" and "sustainable" gain market share, they've jumped in to capitalize on the consumer trends. Yet, another case of every store and every place is the same... ugh.