Mature approach to global sustainability benchmarking is vital to competitiveness

Big opportunity to sell our 'clean and green' credentials

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Australia would be well-placed to measure and report against global sustainability standards, according to John Harvey, AgriFutures Australia managing director.

Australia would be well-placed to measure and report against global sustainability standards, according to John Harvey, AgriFutures Australia managing director.

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Australia needs mature approach to globally reporting its sustainability credentials.

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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been around for just five years and already become the standard for measuring and reporting business, industry and country-level sustainability credentials.

Australia is well-placed to take advantage of this international trend. So, what is holding us back?

We have a strong focus on, and investment in, achieving best practice sustainability outcomes.

Our rural industries have greatly benefited from sustainability wins in areas such as improved water efficiency, more resilient crop varieties, reduced on-farm waste, access to carbon markets and efficient chemical use - to name a few.

But our latest AgriFutures Australia study into alignment with SDGs across the sector - carried out by KPMG Australia - found we may not be promoting our strong credentials in a language that our trade partners understand.

Of increasing urgency is the need for Australia to respond to international pressure - particularly from the European Union, and more recently our Asian neighbours - to push beyond our 'clean and green' image and measure and report against internationally-recognised sustainability metrics.

Maturing our approach to global sustainability benchmarking is vital to keeping pace with our trade competitors and avoiding losing market access.

The EU is leading the future of sustainability reporting.

If Australia is to maintain access to this, and other, markets it needs to increase awareness and encourage agricultural export businesses to look seriously at their alignment to international sustainability benchmarks, such as the SDGs.

These benchmarks are also tools for Australia to demonstrate its responsiveness to changing consumer expectations and attract sustainability-linked investment.

An example of early-movers are Australian tea tree oil growers Phillip and Dee-Ann Prather, who have incorporated the SDGs framework into their corporate policies around water conservation and chemical use as a strategy to sure-up their international market access.

The Prathers grow tea tree on their 120-hectare north coast New South Walse property and source product from 35 local growers to export to globally-recognised companies, including Estée Lauder and L'Oreal.

They are one of a growing number of businesses using the SDGs as a pathway to increase transparency and accountability around their on-farm production practices - and better tell their sustainability story.

In turn, companies like Estée Lauder can promote sustainability across their supply chains to the end consumer, which is a win-win.

Industries are also using the SDGs to underpin their sustainability narrative, and to build trust with the community.

The Australian goat fibre industry recently updated its sustainable production guidelines in-line with the SDGs to increase global market share.

Woolmark has a similar approach with its sustainable material guide, which reports directly against SDGs, including climate action, responsible consumption, industry innovation, sustainable communities, clean water and gender equality.

Recently, all Research and Development Corporations contributed to a study into the SDGs and telling Australia's rural industries story.

I believe Australia's rural industries have a huge opportunity to respond to growing global expectations around sustainability reporting.

But alongside this opportunity, exists a threat - a double-edged sword - that if we don't act quickly, we could end up behind our trade competitors.

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