The time is ripe for ESG+Nutrition: evidence-based nutrition metrics for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing

Meghan O’Hearn , Suzannah Gerber, Sylara Marie Cruz and Dariush Mozaffarian
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Resource type:
Peer review

The globe faces a nutrition crisis. Suboptimal diet is the leading cause of poor health worldwide, with devastating social, environmental, equity, and economic consequences . In 2018, poor diet quality was estimated to cause 12 million deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally. In the US, treatment of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers accounted for 1 in 4 dollars in healthcare—and 18% higher spending than in 2009. Solutions to address the global health and economic burdens of nutrition-related disease must re-imagine and reform the food system – including new approaches to influence the private sector, which plays a critical role in supplying and influencing food choices, nutrition, and health outcomes of consumers.

Among different levers, investors – including institutional investors, family offices, and venture capital – are powerful and underutilized stakeholders for stimulating change. The rise of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing presents a remarkable new opportunity to align financial returns with benefits for society and the planet. This paradigm shift recognizes that long-term financial performance is directly linked to environmental and societal impact. From 2012 to 2020, the value of global ESG-driven assets tripled to $40.5 trillion, and now represents nearly half of the world’s financial assets under management. Businesses have taken note. In 2021, 60 top global businesses committed to publicly supporting and reporting on a common set of Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics for ESG reporting . And, at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation announced a new International Sustainability Standards Board to develop, consolidate, and govern sustainability disclosure standards for businesses.

However, ESG metrics to-date have largely highlighted the Environmental and Governance domains, with little to no Social-focused metrics (and mostly related to employees), and virtually none for nutrition and health. Given the major impact of the food sector on well-being, it’s imperative that new ESG metrics be developed to guide investors to prioritize businesses that innovate responsible practices aligned with consumer health and to divest from those who do not.

​  The Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing framework: a need to add nutrition and health.  ​​   ​
Fig. 1 The Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing framework: a need to add nutrition and health. Core elements included within each of the Environmental, Social, and Governance domains, highlighting the importance of nutrition and health within the Social domain.

To be successful, such ESG + Nutrition metrics must be measurable, evidence-based, accurately reflect benefits and harms on consumer nutrition and health, and track with long-term financial performance. We believe the business case is clear. We also believe the alignment of investment decisions with consumer nutrition and health could create as large a public health impact as global efforts around consumer education and government food policy.

Photo Credit: Clem Onojeghuo/Pexels

This resource has been peer reviewed