The Importance of Sustainable Development in the Food Retail Sector


This research report is designed to explore the phenomena of sustainability in business and corporate social responsibility. The report addresses the concepts of sustainability in business and corporate social responsibility, which resemble the core values of the modern-day economy of the world. Growing concerns related to environmental and social issues force society to demand business’ inclusion into the resolution of some significant problems.

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These issues are complex and urgent and require collaborative action. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are discussed from the perspective of their relevance to the Canadian business in general and the food retail sector in particular. It is defined that such goals as environmental pollution, health and well-being, inequality, poverty, and hunger are the most relevant to the sector. Particular examples of successful practices aimed at the elimination of these challenges in the context of the Canadian food retail business are provided. Conclusively, the recommendations concerning the implementation of sustainability interventions are presented in detail.


The United Nations (UN) enlisted the prioritized goals which the global community must achieve through continuous implementation in the performance of various organizations. Therefore, sustainable development is vital for the contemporary business that thrives not only to make a profit but also to ensure social impact and continuous growth for future generations. The Canadian business sector joins the UN’s efforts aimed at achieving the prioritized goals. In this research, it is argued that not only big but also small- and medium-size enterprises’ profit, values, and development might benefit from the implementation of sustainability strategies.

The chosen company is a grocery store in the food retail sector, which might have an array of opportunities for sustainable development. The report is addressed to the company’s CEO for further decision-making concerning sustainability efforts. The research paper contains such sections as the definitions of the core concepts, the overview of the UN sustainability goals relevant to Canada and Ontario, and those which relate to the food retail sector. Then, the paper addresses the best practices used by Canadian food retail businesses to address sustainability challenges. It is concluded with the recommendations for the CEO.


For a company CEO to make an informed decision concerning the relevance of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the business, it is crucial to collect a sufficient amount of data about the issues. The research allows for investigating the reasons and outcomes of the practical implementation of sustainable development business models and CSR by some entities in the sector. For a business to align with the requirements of the UN, it is necessary to clarify what goals apply to Canada in general and food retail in particular.

Sustainability and CSR


The term ‘sustainability is very often used in relation to leading businesses and reflects the global tendencies in different sectors of the economy. According to Lorincova et al., sustainability is a core element of business success (1). Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Schaltegger et al. 4).

In other words, sustainable business is an enterprise that does not limit its operations to profit-making only but adheres to its decisions and processes to the interests and needs of the community and environment. This adherence might be manifested in the form of specific business models or some practices benefiting the environment, particular population groups, and communities. Although business leaders continuously generate profit to meet the requirements of their shareholders, they must align their performance with social and environmental issues, which might influence the relationships with shareholders (Lopez-Perez et al. 2). Therefore, for a company to be competitive in the modern business world, it must address sustainability challenges.

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Corporate social responsibility resembles the efforts initiated by a company to address sustainability concerns. Society today poses high-level demands for “sustainable and socially responsible business models” (Lopez-Perez et al. 1). Since enterprises of different scales largely affect the environment and society, they must be transparent about their performance. Moreover, they must be held responsible for their contribution to the local or global community. According to Westman et al., any entity of business nature is a social actor that must be perceived as a significant contributor to economic development, technological advancement, and employment (388).

As a participant in social processes, a company should take responsibility for its both harmful and advantageous contribution to the community. Therefore, CRS is manifested through volunteer work, charity, philanthropic actions, and other initiatives that define the responsibility of the enterprises before society. Importantly, not only large corporations should be held socially responsible but also small- and medium-sized entities that enable the achievement of sustainability goals at a local level.

The Main Sustainability Issues in Canada

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) have been defined as the leading sustainability concerns affecting the world today. These seventeen goals need to be achieved by 2030 to eliminate some crucial threats to the well-being of humanity (United Nations [UN]). The goals are aimed at the elimination of hunger and poverty, improvement of climate conditions, clear water and air, affordable energy, the elimination of gender inequality, growth in industry and innovation, and others (UN). The Canadian government adheres to some important goals introduced by the UN based on the issues that are relevant to the country.

Canada, in general, and Ontario, in particular, are currently facing several sustainability concerns that align with those identified by the UN. They include social exclusion of such population groups as LGBTQ, indigenous peoples, women, youth, and people with disabilities, poverty, gender inequality, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and clean innovation and technological advancement (Government of Canada 2). These sustainability issues are addressed through the initiatives of government at both domestic and international levels through partnership. However, it is important for separate enterprises to join the agenda and resolve the problems locally.

Sustainability Challenges in the Food Retail Sector

The food retail sector in Canada consists of enterprises of different sizes, which face sustainability challenges as well. Among those identified as applicable to Canadian business as a whole, there are particular issues that resemble sustainability particularities of food retail. One of them is the problem of environmental pollution caused by food production. It is caused by different types of entities, including small- and medium-sized enterprises. In Canada, small private companies employ fewer than 99 employees, and medium-size enterprises contain from 100 to 499 employees; they “cause the majority of private sector pollution” (Burch 2). Therefore, environmental pollution is one of the concerns related to the Canadian food retail sector.

Another sustainability issue is food insecurity that restricts people with low income from accessing nutrition freely. This problem affects 8.4% of Canadian households, which accounts for approximately 2 million people (Government of Canada 27). It is one of the priorities to ensure the elimination of hunger and poverty in insecure groups of the population. Healthy lives and well-being promotion is also one of the issues that relate to the food retail sector since affordable and high-quality products are the basis of a nutritious diet that contributes to better health status (Government of Canada 32).

Finally, the employment of minorities in the food retail sector is an important sustainability issue that applies to Canada and Ontario in particular. The interventions aimed at attracting a more diverse workforce will ensure the CSR of the entities working with food retailing. All of the abovementioned sustainability challenges are relevant to the designated sector of the economy due to their immediate dependence on the quality and affordability of food. Such an area as food retail provides an array of opportunities to address several sustainability goals within different domains, including production, distribution, pricing, and employment.

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Successful Intervention to Meet the Challenges

Since the introduction of UN SDG to the Canadian business, multiple organizations have demonstrated some significant achievements in the field of sustainable development. It is noteworthy that the majority of concerns identified by the UN are very complex and urgent. They need continuous collaborative efforts and alignment of various entities toward the same goals. A survey suggests that 52% of Canadian small- and medium-size enterprises attempt to utilize specific business models to ensure sustainable development (Burch 3).

Thus, under the guidance of the UN SDG, Canadian companies of different scales can implement specific practices relevant to their fields of expertise, within which they can make a change. In response to the sustainability challenges, many companies apply such practices as transparency, internal audience, “environment, supplier relationships, customer and/or consumer relationships, and community relationships” (Lopez-Perez et al. 1). In such a manner, they ensure environmental protection from pollution, address social inequalities, and foster innovation.

However, the success of problem-solving on a global scale is impossible without the respective contributions of particular entities. Despite the active involvement of government in the addressing of sustainability challenges on a national level, “the authority and legitimacy to govern sustainability do not rest solely in the government’s hands” (Burch 1). Any big change is implemented through a series of smaller steps.

In regards to the implementation of sustainable development and CSR, it is essential to ensure that these goals are met at the level of small enterprises. The collaborative and systematic change in the approaches to leading businesses from small to big enterprises will enable global transformation, which is prioritized by the UN.

In regards to pollution concerns, different organizations take action to minimize their harmful effect on the environment. Many companies implement corporate policies aimed at waste reduction and shift to environment-friendly suppliers (Burch 4). More specifically, Maple Leaf, a Canadian food retail company, has implemented a program aimed at the elimination of waste and reduction of harmful environmental impact by 50% by 2025 (“Sustainability”).

Similarly, the Sobeys corporation implemented educational programs for people to reduce product waste, reduced the use of plastic by 30%, encouraged its stores to participate in energy-saving lighting, and promoted greenhouse gas emission reduction (“Sustainability at Sobeys”). All these actions demonstrate the level of CSR of the entities and ensure their contribution to the sustainability challenges resolution.

The same extent of action is directed at the improvement of health and well-being as one of the sustainability goals. Maple Leaf has initiated the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security and engages in the production of meat-free of antibiotics (“Sustainability”). Sobeys prioritizes organic food and has donated $8.4 million to food banks and communities in need (“Sustainability at Sobeys”). In terms of addressing inequality, Sobeys repeatedly donated money to Feed Nova Scotia and launched the Women’s inclusion network (“Sustainability at Sobeys”). All these practices demonstrate the sustainability efforts of the companies, which ultimately contribute to their recognition by the public and stakeholders.


Based on the collected information concerning the importance of sustainable business in the conditions of the modern-day trends in the global economy, it is recommended for the company to implement sustainability interventions. To comply with the requirements of the future, the company has to adopt a specific corporate culture that prioritizes low-cost production, innovative solutions, and positive social and environmental impact through sustainable performance.

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The enterprise will benefit from choosing a sustainable development path within several domains. Firstly, the global interest in sustainability issues will amplify the level of investors’ attention to the sector where sustainability goals are addressed. With the implementation of CSR into the company’s culture, more progressive investments will be attracted. Ultimately, the profit-making and development of the company will be ensured.

Secondly, as for small- and medium-sized companies, the profit perspectives might seem inefficient in comparison to the expenditures of sustainability endeavors. However, the “business case … might consist of more than a simple financial return on investment” (Burch 3). Indeed, adherence to the sustainability principles in leadership and employee performance will strengthen the company’s values, mission, and vision.

It is possible to implement motivational practices for employees who will contribute creativity and innovation necessary to achieve SDGs (Lorincova et al. 1). Thirdly, a secure value basis might improve brand recognition and create a respectable image of the company in the eyes of the public, thus increasing the level of customers’ trust. Finally, all these advancements will benefit the overall reputation of the business and ensure its continued growth with prospective development in the sector in the future.


In summation, the urgent issues in the global community call for immediate action aimed at the elimination of the main threats and challenges connected with sustainability. The UN has identified seventeen SDGs that prioritize such global issues as environmental pollution, greenhouse gas emission, inequality, poverty, hunger, health and well-being, innovation, affordable energy, and others.

Business entities, as the main social actors, are entitled to address the challenges through their operations and volunteer work. In such a manner, they will ensure their corporate social responsibility and enable the achievement of the designated goals. It is important that not only big corporations but also small- and middle-size companies need to be held accountable for their contribution to the environment and society.

Multiple examples of Canadian food retail companies’ practices demonstrate how sustainability might be achieved in entities of different scales. Therefore, it is recommended that the company implements particular interventions aimed at the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improvement of people’s health through quality food consumption, elimination of inequality with the help of employment strategies, and support of underprivileged populations.

Works Cited

Burch, Sarah. “Small Businesses and Sustainability Innovation: Confronting the Gap between Motivation and Capacity.” Policy Brief, no. 127, 2018, pp. 1-12.

Government of Canada. Canada’s Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Voluntary National Review, 2018. Web.

Lopez-Perez, Maria Evgenia, et al. “Sustainability and Business Outcomes in the Context of SMEs: Comparing Family Firms vs. Non-Family Firms.” Sustainability, vol. 10, 2018, pp. 1-16.

Lorincova, Silvia, et al. “Employee Motivation as a Tool to Achieve Sustainability of Business Processes.” Sustainability, vol. 11, 2019, pp. 1-15.

Schaltegger, Stefan, et al. “Business Models for Sustainability: Origins, Present Research, and Future Avenues.” Organization & Environment, vol. 29, no. 1, 2016, pp. 3-10.

“Sustainability at Sobeys.” Sobeys, 2019. Web.

“Sustainability.” Maple Leaf, 2018. Web.

United Nations. #Envision2030: 17 goals to transform the world for persons with disabilitiesWeb.

Westman, Linda, et al. “Conceptualizing Businesses as Social Actors: A Framework for Understanding Sustainability Actions in Small‐ and Medium‐Sized Enterprises.” Business Strategy and the Environment, vol. 28, pp. 388-402.

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