Telling our rural industries’ sustainability story key to Australia’s global competitiveness


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New research into sustainability measures across rural industries reveals big opportunity for Australian agriculture to spruik its strong sustainability credentials on the international stage.

The AgriFutures Australia study, Telling Australia’s rural industries story, is a snapshot of sustainability in the Australian agricultural, fisheries and forestry sector and how it tracks against the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Undertaken by KPMG Australia, the study offers a truly cross-sector analysis of sustainability, with input from every research and development corporation (RDC) and suggests there are real benefits to be gained if Australia can get consistency with its sustainability goals, measurements and global messaging.

Jennifer Medway, Senior Manager Business Development, AgriFutures Australia explained that while the SDGs are just one measure of sustainability, the goals are increasingly viewed as the internationally accepted language for measuring and reporting business, industry and country-level sustainability credentials.

“Paying closer attention to world trends when it comes to sustainability can pay real dividends for Australia’s food and fibre products and access to markets,” said Ms Medway.

“We are already seeing this play out. Since 2018, all European Union Free Trade Agreements must now include a Trade and Sustainable Development chapter, requiring partners to follow international standards across the three sustainable development pillars: economic, environmental and social.

“Our international trade partners want to know what Australia’s sustainability narrative is and we need to stretch beyond our ‘clean and green’ identity to focus on proven sustainability measures. The maturity of Australia’s SDG alignment and reporting varies considerably by industry – a challenge we must collectively address.”

The latest United Nation’s Sustainability Development Report shows Australia has improved one spot on the 2020 SDG index, now ranked 37 in the world but substantially down from a high of 26 in 2017. Australia ranks well behind many other developed countries and agricultural trade competitors, such as New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

Ms Medway said the study helps set the baseline for sustainability reporting and unpacks how rural industries can work together to keep pace with global expectations.

The Australian dairy industry features in the report as a positive example of how an industry-developed sustainability framework aligned to global goals, targets and indicators delivers significant value. The well-established Australian Dairy Sustainability Framework is a blueprint through which farmers and dairy manufacturing companies collaborate to deliver on industry promises.

It not only enables the industry to holistically monitor its sustainability progress, it also enhances the sector’s reputation by providing confidence, reliability and comparability in understanding sustainable innovation and progress.

“We know how much Australia’s rural industries are already doing when it comes to sustainability. This study shows the benefits of a collective sustainability narrative for Australian agriculture are enormous, but we need to take action as the alternative could be a narrative imposed on us by external parties,” said Ms Medway.

“The good news is that much of the work is already being done by RDCs and industry, the next step is working together to explore how we get better at sharing our sustainability story globally in a language markets understand.”

Telling Australia’s Rural Industries story unpacks how Australia is tracking against the SDGs and the opportunities that exist to get sustainability measurement and reporting right. AgriFutures Australia’s National Rural Issues Program invested in this research as part of its mandate to lead cross-sectoral research into rural issues of national and global significance.

Download the report Telling Australia’s rural industries story from AgriFutures Australia.

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