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The whole, often fraught, often confused, issue of ‘sustainability’ in agriculture has the potential to foot trip New Zealand if we’re not careful.

A recent KPMG agribusiness green paper makes the point that a wide range of sustainable perspectives gives rise to an obvious question — Who is defining what constitutes a sustainable business model?

This well-written, thoughtful report highlights the danger of our country being accused of ‘greenwash’, where our clean, green image is nothing more than words and puffery, with very little to actually support the 100% Pure label.

Substantive action to support our image must be taken to leverage NZ’s global brand the report says. That said, quite what the global brand actually is, is debatable.

One of the main challenges NZ primary products suppliers face is that the sustainability requirements of each retail chain is different and not always consistent.

This is because the requirements have been driven by the marketing positions of the retail chain, rather than being based on best practice science and research.

The report suggests that regulation and compliance will play a key role in aiding the agribusiness sector in adopting a sustainable supply chain approach. Though there’s a danger of too much ‘red tape’ inhibiting growth and innovation in the sector, the key will be that the appropriate policy, whether regulatory or voluntary, is used.

Given that New Zealand’s current regulatory and compliance framework is similar to Australia and Britain’s, noteworthy considerations include:

• A ‘first-in-first-served’ system for water use currently provided under the RMA needs changing. Similar to the Land and Water Forum 2010 recommendations, the minimisation of NZ’s water footprint should be achieved
• Emissions reporting and trading schemes are not new, and agribusiness emissions need to be addressed
• There is a global trend for a whole life cycle approach. By adopting a ‘cradle-to-grave’ and ‘product stewardship’ concept, the sector will automatically be taking a vital step towards developing a sustainable supply chain approach
• Product traceability is already occurring in the agribusiness supply chain, and it is questionable whether it needs to be legislated in New Zealand. Instead, this may be a case where global consumer demands and trends remove the need to develop more ‘red tape’

KPMG is to produce a second report focusing on the practicalities of implementing a sustainable supply chain approach. Having addressed a complex question, the company’s answers will be extremely interesting.