WBCSD and BCG release a new aid for business on the real value of food


15 September, 2021




Geneva, 15 September 2021 – Today, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) released The True Value of Food – a powerful aid to business decision-making, which guides business leaders in accounting for the real value of food in their decisions and action. Written with the support of management consultancy BCG, this paper distils knowledge from interviews with leading WBCSD members and key partners such as Bayer, Danone, DSM, Nestlé, OCP, Olam, Rabobank, & Syngenta. It helps companies to identify the direct and indirect natural, social and economic impacts of a food product from farm to fork – otherwise known as the True Value of Food (TVoF).

The global food system is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and cause of biodiversity as well as social challenges such as equity, hunger and health. The “hidden costs” of global food and land use systems sum to USD $19.8 trillion per year. These costs are frequently being borne by smallholder farmers, youth and women, as well as future generations. The WBCSD Vision 2050 report outlines a better understanding and of economic externalities (including the TVoF) as a key enabler in food system transformation in-line with the SDGs and the Paris accord. The WBCSD CEO Guide to Food System Transformation identifies TVoF as a critical component of transition pathways on transparency, policy and finance, and new business models.

Every business leader is experiencing direct or indirect pressure from a growing consumer demand for sustainably produced food. This paper helps companies gain a complete view of the value of a product — for consumers, the planet and societies — to support decisions on the right tradeoffs and define the most sustainable path forward. 

It provides a common language to help companies identify hidden costs and benefits, as well as a basis for assessing the opportunities and risks of the emerging food transition.

The paper uses working examples of food products to help business to understand what is meant by true value accounting – realizing the value of people and nature that is embedded in food products- including carbon emissions, air pollution, obesity, poverty and food waste.

This publication outlines the True Value of Food as a key guide to help business navigate the business transformations needed from sourcing through to partnerships. Seven criteria, outlined in the report, will help business to move from defining a strong pilot project and activating it, through to scaling this across their supply chain:

  • leadership commitment,
  • alignment of KPIs and metrics,
  • well thought out incentives,
  • direct feedback loops,
  • identification of key points of influence,
  • planning for scale,
  • and multi-stakeholder working, with industry peers, policymakers, and civil society.

This paper supports the work of the True Value Coalition, a new partnership launching at the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021 (UNFSS). Multiple stakeholders will convene in pursuit of  healthy and sustainable food systems that provide safe, nutritious food for all within our planetary boundaries. WBCSD, The Global Alliance for the Future of Food, the Capitals Coalition and other stakeholders sent an open letter to the UNFSS Secretary General to urge a full and unequivocal commitment to true value accounting as an outcome of the UNFSS.

Individual and collective actions to recognize and operationalize the true value of food are now needed to change food systems for the better, to move from borrowing from coming generations to investing in a shared future.

“We need a common language of metrics to measure the impacts, using a globally harmonized system of measurement” – Patrick HoldenCEO, The Sustainable Food Trust

“With the true value of food you can start switching the equation over to value, rather than only costs” – Geraldine Matchett, Co-CEO, CFO & Member of the Managing Board, DSM

“True Value of Food is a powerful unifying approach for CEOs and decision makers in companies who are striving to make the right choices to account for a wide range of hidden costs like GHG emissions, water scarcity, food waste, health impacts from empty calories, air pollution, and social costs in their products.” – Shalini Unnikrishnan, Managing Director and Partner BCG

“We need to meet this moment of reckoning with strong, lasting commitments to food systems transformation by investing in solutions with integrity – like True Cost Accounting. Our riskiest investment will be to continue with business-as-usual.” – Ruth Richardson, Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food

“Creating equitable, net-zero and nature-positive food systems that can nourish all people is everyone’s business. Securing the application of the true value of food in business decision-making and reporting represents a unique opportunity to create the awareness and incentives for the big transformation intended for food systems.” – Peter Bakker, CEO & President, WBCSD

WBCSD contact point

Matthew Watkins, Manager, Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH)