Published in Meat & Co no. 5 2019
A BUSINESS IS ONLY VIABLE IF IT IS BOTH PROFITABLE AND SOCIALLY ACCEPTED. SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE OCCURS WHEN INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIETY VALUE THE PRODUCTS, ACTIVITIES AND PRODUCTION PROCESSES OF A BUSINESS POSITIVELY. A COMPANY THEREFORE HAS TO FORMULATE OBJECTIVES FOR SOCIAL ISSUES ALONGSIDE PURELY ECONOMIC ONES AND INTEGRATE THEM INTO ITS OVERALL POLICY IF IT WANTS TO BE FUTURE-PROOF AS A WHOLE. FOR SOME INDUSTRIES THIS WILL BE QUITE A CHALLENGE, FOR SOME - LIKE THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY - EVEN IMPOSSIBLE.
Although it may seem so, social acceptance is not something new. In my strategic advice to companies, I have been including social acceptance through an 'outside-in' approach, in which the expected future social functions that a company can fulfil are central. It is true that, due to the growing influence of NGOs, but especially social media, there is much more attention for social issues than before. In addition, science is also becoming increasingly involved in the public debate about, for example, nature, the environment and global warming. If a problem is deemed generally relevant to society, national and European political parties, parliaments and governments will have to have an opinion on it and this will irrevocably lead to the start of a legislative process that will result in laws and regulations. Subsequently, in the event of disputes, the courts will determine whether the law is being correctly applied. That is how it works in a democratic constitutional state. And so it went with the nitrogen problem. In the end, it was not the government's 'green' disposition but the 'nitrogen ruling' by the Council of State that forced the government to take measures to protect nature that was decisive.
Because farmers feared to be disproportionately affected, partly as a result of statements by politicians, they decided to take the tractor to The Hague. The great thing about this action, in which for the first time farmers from all sectors participated, was that the social acceptance of farmers by the citizens turned out to be high, judging by the strongly positive reactions. Probably greater than they could ever have imagined. This is a profit that the farmers can cash in on.
However, a comment should be made. The citizens' appreciation mainly concerns the products, not so much the production process. Continuous attention for current and future social issues remains necessary.
Innovation therefore remains as necessary as ever. This could be a transition to circular agriculture combined with fair prices for yields, but also investment in technical solutions that reduce the negative environmental impact of farms even further than the enormous reduction in emissions already achieved. And not forgetting innovations that actively contribute to a better environment, animal welfare and biodiversity or otherwise provide future functions (products and services) that are socially appreciated. Not 'inside-out', but 'outside-in'!
Gert-Jan van Kesteren