Introduction

The GFI & FAIRR Alternative Proteins ESG Reporting Frameworks have been developed in response to growing investor interest in alternative proteins and investors’ desire to measure and analyze ESG characteristics of alternative protein companies and business lines. Until now, such measurement and analysis has been hindered by a lack of industry-specific measurement and reporting guidelines. The ESG frameworks we co-developed address this gap by serving as industry-specific tools public and private companies may use to report on the performance of their alternative protein businesses. Investors can use the frameworks to conduct due diligence on companies involved in alternative proteins and gain transparency into the related characteristics of such companies. The frameworks also serve as roadmaps for ESG best practices within the industry.

What is ESG?

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company’s behavior used by impact-conscious investors to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company safeguards the environment, including corporate policies addressing climate change, for example. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights. (source: Investopedia)

About the frameworks

There are two frameworks, the Alternative Proteins ESG Reporting Framework for Specialized Companies (the “Specialized Framework”) and the Alternative Proteins ESG Reporting Framework for Diversified Companies (the “Diversified Framework”). 

  • The Specialized Framework is designed for manufacturers and ingredient suppliers of any size whose core focus is alternative proteins. 
  • The Diversified Framework is designed for companies that produce a variety of products and are diversifying their product portfolios to include alternative proteins. This includes food retailers, manufacturers, and animal protein producers.

ESG framework 2024 refresh

GFI and FAIRR are committed to ensuring the frameworks are responsive to feedback and reflect current industry best practices. Since the frameworks first launched in 2022, we’ve collected stakeholder feedback and conducted a review of the regulatory and voluntary ESG landscape. As a result of this process, we have undertaken a comprehensive refresh to ensure the frameworks respond to major voluntary and government-mandated ESG reporting and continue to enable alternative protein investors and companies to integrate ESG best practices into their operations. 

The ESG framework 2024 refresh includes the following changes:

Aligning with the latest ESG standards

Over the last year, there has been a significant shift in the ESG regulatory landscape, with market participants marking 2024 as a turning point in ESG regulation. The IFRS Foundation’s International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) released its first two sustainability standards, S1 and S2, aiming to provide a globally applicable set of standards for disclosing the effect of climate-related risks and opportunities on a company’s prospects.  These standards are set to play a key role with jurisdictions including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Singapore, and the UK, among others planning to adopt the standards in national law. 

While the ISSB standards focus on climate-related risks and opportunities, a standardized framework for assessing nature-related risks and opportunities has also been issued by the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). The TNFD follows a structure similar to that of the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which forms the foundation for the new ISSB standards. The ISSB has already announced its intention to follow a similar process using the TNFD framework to develop its standards for nature-related risks and opportunities.

Given the seismic shift in global ESG standards and regulation, GFI & FAIRR have worked to align these standards closely with the added lens of how they apply specifically to the alternative protein industry. This alignment ensures that companies of all stages using the GFI & FAIRR frameworks are well-positioned to report against these global standards.

The framework also now aligns with the ESG Data Convergence Initiative (EDCI), an investor-focused ESG data standardization group, to further enhance comparability and reduce the duplicative reporting burden for investors and companies.

Inclusion of lab-stage disclosures

In the previous version of the Specialized Framework, lab-stage companies were excluded because they often do not have the resources to complete the disclosures, a finalized product, or company processes to report. However, investor feedback highlighted that including a specific set of disclosures for lab-stage companies would be useful. In the Specialized Framework 2024 refresh, we’ve developed, piloted, and included a set of lab-stage company disclosures based on a specifically designed materiality framework to ensure the disclosures respond to investor needs. 

The integration of lab-stage disclosures is designed to provide language and technical guidance to enhance a lab-stage company’s ability to adequately and transparently promote its product offering while positioning it for future in-depth ESG and impact reporting. As a result, for lab-stage companies, the material areas incorporated in the framework include identifying and promoting competitive advantages, food safety, climate-related risk and opportunity, nature-related risk and opportunity, circular design, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), nutrition, and the use of animals.

Assessing animal welfare and antibiotic use

Based on investor feedback, we have extended the scope of the Specialized Framework to include metrics that explore risks and opportunities associated with using animals and antibiotics on animals throughout a company’s supply chain. These metrics have been included for several reasons. First, the disclosure provides an accountability mechanism. For some investors, using animal products either in the product or as part of the company’s supply chain is an exclusion criterion; for others, it may be acceptable with safeguards in place.  Extending the framework’s scope enables transparent company-investor communication, facilitating efficient and effective decision-making. 

Second, including these disclosures expands the relevance of the Specialized Framework to investors with diversified portfolios, i.e., with investments across food tech. The Specialized Framework is designed to be holistic, reducing the need for companies and investors to complete multiple voluntary frameworks. Extending the scope of disclosures enables non-specialized investors to apply the framework across businesses in food tech, thereby reducing the overall reporting burden.

Third, over the last year, blended products have reentered the conversation around possible pathways for the industry. Including these disclosures is essential to understanding the risks and opportunities associated with blended products. 

Finally, although the GFI & FAIRR frameworks do not include an element of scoring, a company may not be formally recognized for not using animal products without these disclosures.

ESG implementation and guidance knowledge bank

Many lab and pilot-stage companies may need more expertise or resources to respond comprehensively and accurately to ESG disclosures. A core objective of the Specialized Framework is to provide a roadmap to best-practice ESG reporting. As such, the 2024 refresh includes links to additional resources, guidance, and tools to empower companies with the knowledge to deliver ESG expectations.

The guidance and tools provided are, wherever possible, tailored to alternative protein risks and opportunities. They are designed to help companies identify areas for improvement and opportunities for innovation within their processes and operations. All the resources listed are free to use, from credible industry sources, and align with the leading ESG practices. 

The suite of additional resources includes educational materials offering templates and step-by-step guides for achieving governance, environmental, or social objectives; tools for measurement, monitoring, and reporting to ensure compliance with standard reporting requirements, such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions calculations; and advisory or supplementary support services, providing access to further information, expert networks, forums, government support, or where to source consultancy services.

The ESG knowledge bank aims to offer a holistic support system to enable companies to understand and deliver against ESG expectations, streamline reporting, and leverage expert knowledge for continuous improvement.

Efficiently reporting ESG and impact disclosures

As investors have increasingly focused on considerations beyond purely financial terms, ESG and impact investing have sometimes been used interchangeably. However, ESG and impact disclosures can be considered two ends of a spectrum. At one end, ESG disclosures assess a company’s risks and opportunities linked with financial considerations. At the other end, impact disclosures assess a company’s positive effect on social or environmental issues. Importantly, ESG investing does not require a specific intention to create measurable positive social or environmental impact. In contrast, impact investing does and is thus ideally accompanied by a suite of impact measurement requirements.

The original release of the Specialized Framework enabled investors and companies to make a connection between ESG disclosures and impact, thereby tracking and driving positive change. However, to improve reporting efficiency, we have added a new column identifying whether each disclosure is ESG- or impact-oriented.

It would be impossible to create a database of all possible impact indicators, and therefore, the Specialized Framework is not designed to be a holistic set of impact indicators. Instead, it enables investors and companies to articulate their impact in line with broader industry priorities, competitive advantages, and global impact measurement trends.

Recommended metrics for public disclosure

The Specialized Framework aims to enhance a company’s understanding of its ESG risks and opportunities and communicate this with investors. Recognizing the critical role of ESG reporting in today’s competitive landscape, we have included a concise list of metrics we recommend for public disclosure in the Technical Guide. The choice to disclose these metrics is left to the discretion of each company, enabling them to tailor their ESG reporting strategy to their needs and goals.

This recommended list is aligned with current industry standards for companies at the commercial stage, offering a clear benchmark for transparency. This approach works to streamline ESG reporting across the industry and position companies of all sizes to meet the growing demands, regulatory or otherwise, for transparency in the ESG landscape.

Simplifying the Specialized Framework

To make using, understanding, and reporting against the framework more accessible and efficient, we now offer three downloadable versions. Each version is pre-filtered to show only the disclosures relevant to the applicable company stage. However, each framework will still contain the complete list of disclosures. To select a different stage, simply choose the preferred filter option in the table header row “Lab,” “Pilot,” “Commercial,” and “Advanced Stage”. 

The download options are as follows:

  • Lab-stage: Disclosures designed for early-stage companies whose products or ingredients/inputs are still in the research and design phase and have no commercially available product. 
  • Pilot-stage: Disclosures designed for a company that has developed a product or ingredient/input that is being publicly tested, has recently been released to the market (or will be soon), or is being distributed as a B2B ingredient/input. 
  • Commercial and Advanced stages: Disclosures designed for a more established company, with a known product and customer or B2B following, and/or is likely profitable with sustainable growth. Companies will have completed or will be undergoing consumer testing, nutritional profiling, validating preparation methods, and shelf-stability testing. Companies will be focused on end-product refinement or expanding their product offerings. 

The Specialized Framework Technical Guide provides full definitions of each company stage.

In addition, we have reduced the total number of disclosures to streamline further and reduce the reporting burden while maintaining all material risks and opportunities are addressed and aligned to key international voluntary standards.

Download the frameworks

Each framework is available in a user-friendly Excel format that may be used directly for reporting purposes. Each framework is accompanied by a technical guide, which provides additional information on the framework’s scope, objectives, development, and design, as well as how it may be used effectively by investors and companies.

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Do you have feedback or a case study to share? 

We’d love to hear if you have any feedback on how we can improve the frameworks and technical guides or learn about how you are using them. We’ll use the information you provide to make corrections, inform framework updates for future releases, and create case studies that will help enable us to encourage further adoption.

Frequently asked questions

Selecting a framework 

How does my company decide which framework to report to?

There are two frameworks: the Alternative Proteins ESG Reporting Framework for Specialized Companies (the “Specialized Framework”) and the Alternative Proteins ESG Reporting Framework for Diversified Companies (the “Diversified Framework”). The Specialized Framework is designed for manufacturers and ingredient suppliers of any size whose core focus is producing alternative proteins. Meanwhile, the Diversified Framework is designed for companies that produce a variety of products and are diversifying their product portfolios to include alternative proteins. This includes food retailers, manufacturers, animal protein producers, and others who have growing exposure to alternative proteins. 

For further details see the “Scope” sections of the respective technical guide.

Considerations for specialized companies

Is it appropriate for companies that do not have any commercially available alternative protein product to report to the Specialized Framework?

In some cases, this may be appropriate, but it would be unusual. Companies most likely to report to the Specialized Framework without a commercially available product are those developing novel products like cultivated meat that do not yet have regulatory approval in their region of operation. Such companies may have scaled their manufacturing process to a pilot or demo stage to prepare for production upon receiving regulatory approval and, therefore, would fit the criteria for reporting to the framework, per the below. 

Guidance for reporting to the framework is based on the manufacturing stage of a company. 

Lab-stage companies are expected to complete only the questions in the framework marked as “Lab” within 2 years of the publication of this framework (released in April 2024). A lab-stage company is defined as an early-stage company whose products or ingredients/inputs are still in the research and development phase and that has no commercially available product. Company resources are focused on idea validation, including product or ingredient development and business planning. Development and any small-scale manufacturing take place at a lab facility and can be in the order of grams to kilograms or 10s of liters.

Pilot and demo stage companies are asked to complete questions marked “Pilot” within two years of the publication of this framework (April 2024), or within two years of graduating to the pilot or demo manufacturing stage. A pilot or demo stage company is defined as a company that has developed a product or ingredient/input that is being publicly tested, has recently been released to the market, or is being distributed as a B2B ingredient/input. The company may have recently entered the market, and while it may be experiencing rapid growth, it may not yet be profitable. Manufacturing is taking place at a contract manufacturer and/or a small-scale, pre-commercial facility with a production volume of 100s of tons or liters.

Commercial stage companies are asked to complete questions marked ‘Commercial’ within two years of the publication of this framework (May  2024) or within two years of graduating to the commercial manufacturing stage. A commercial-stage company is defined as a company that is more established in its industry, with a known product and customer or B2B following, and/or is likely profitable with sustainable growth. Companies will have completed or will be in the process of consumer testing, nutritional profiling, validating preparation methods, and shelf stability testing. Companies will be focused on end product refinement or expanding their product offerings. Manufacturing is taking place at scale at a contract manufacturer and/or a large-scale, commercial facility on the order of 1000s of tons or liters. Commercial-stage companies should endeavor to complete all questions marked “Advanced.” If a commercial-stage company cannot respond to “Advanced” metrics, it should integrate the capacity to complete these metrics within its business strategy.

For further details, see the “Manufacturing stages and definitions” section of the Specialized Framework technical guide.

Is there an age or funding minimum under which start-ups should not report to the Specialized Company Framework?

There is no age or funding minimum for a company. Guidance for reporting to the framework is based on the manufacturing stage of a company.

For further details, see the “Manufacturing stages and definitions” section of the Specialized Framework Technical Guide.

Considerations for diversified companies

Is there a minimum alternative-protein-related revenue level under which producers, manufacturers, or retailers should not report to the Diversified Company Framework?

No matter the amount of revenue related to alternative proteins, all diversified companies can report to the framework (e.g., for some companies, alternative proteins may comprise <0.5% of total revenue, while for others it may be meaningfully higher). While we encourage companies to report to the framework at the business-segment level, we understand that this may not be possible for all companies at this time. Therefore, companies may report financial and business information, and associated ESG risks and opportunities, at the brand level instead.

Relationship with regulatory requirements

Are these disclosures required by any regulatory entity and/or are being incorporated into mandatory reporting frameworks such as the SEC’s drafted Climate-Related Disclosures?

No. While some disclosures in the GFI & FAIRR frameworks align to varying degrees with those included in the SEC’s drafted Climate-Related Disclosures and the drafted International Sustainability Standards (ISSB) standards (which may serve as a basis for future regulatory frameworks), no regulatory body is mandating reporting to these frameworks.

Publication of disclosures

If a company shares its disclosures with FAIRR or GFI, will the relevant organization publish them?

No. At this time, neither FAIRR nor GFI has plans to publish any full framework responses. 

However, in 2023, FAIRR may reach out to diversified companies to ask them to pilot the Diversified Framework and collect company disclosures and feedback on the framework. Going forward, FAIRR may use the tool as part of its engagement methodology, and benchmark companies, or as part of its Consumer Protein Index. 

Both organizations encourage reporting companies to publish their responses on their own websites or integrate them into their annual reporting. 

Moreover, in 2023 or beyond, GFI may solicit companies to share framework responses to aid benchmarking, provide examples of strong disclosures, or for other purposes.

Both organizations encourage reporting companies to publish select responses on their own websites or integrate them into their annual reporting. In particular, for the diversified framework, we recommend companies publish the following disclosures:

  • Diversified companies (from the Diversified Framework): E-C1, E-C6, E-C7, E-LCD2, E-LCD3, E-LCD4, E-W2, E-W4, E-W5, S-CE1, S-N1, and S-JT1.

For the Specialized Framework, we have included recommendations on which disclosure could be published in the accompanying technical guide. See section 4.4 in the Specialized Framework Technical Guide.

Companies may share additional metrics at their discretion but are encouraged to seek legal advice if they have any questions or concerns. In particular, companies should note that sharing certain competitively sensitive information publicly or with market competitors may violate state or federal antitrust laws. Generally, information may be shared confidentially with investors.

Relationship to voluntary frameworks

Will reporting to either of the frameworks enable my company to claim compliance with any of the established voluntary reporting frameworks (e.g., TCFD, SASB, or CDP)?

Technically, no. However, for the Specialized Framework, there is a high degree of overlap (between 54 to 72%) with key voluntary reporting frameworks. Where such overlap occurs, it is noted on a disclosure-by-disclosure basis in each framework. For further details see the “Comparability assessment” section of the Specialized Framework technical guide.

For the Diversified Framework, while there is also overlap with voluntary reporting frameworks and the framework compliments companies’ existing voluntary disclosures, it does not enable a company to claim compliance with another voluntary reporting framework.

Definition of alternative proteins 

My company defines alternative proteins differently to how the framework does. How should I report?

At this point in time, the Specialized framework only covers four types of alternative proteins: plant-based, fermentation-enabled, cultivated, and hybrid. The Diversified Framework also includes plant-based wholefood proteins and fats in its definition of alternative proteins. 

If your company’s definition is outside the scope of these technologies, then this framework may not be applicable to you. If your definition falls inside the scope, then please provide your definition and define the scope of your reporting in the “Business Overview” tab of the framework and report as is applicable to your company.

Framework scoring mechanism

Is there a scoring mechanism built into the frameworks?

At this time, no. While a number of disclosure topics involve quantitative disclosures, their interpretation and assessment is up to the evaluating investors. 

For more information see the respective technical guide.

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Resource

Alternative proteins life cycle assessment guide

This best practice guide provides a standardized approach to undertaking LCAs for alternative protein manufacturers.

Invest in the entire industry with a donation to GFI

In addition to investing in individual startups, a donation to GFI will maximize your impact for the entire alternative protein industry. Being 100 percent powered by philanthropy allows us to keep resources and advisory services free and open-access.

GFI engages with all stakeholders across the value chain — from investors and startups to established manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice companies. This allows us to accelerate the entire alternative protein industry.

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About these resources

These resources were developed by the Good Food Institute (GFI) and FAIRR, a Coller Initiative. 

About GFI
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Current meat production is unsustainable and The Good Food Institute (GFI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working internationally to make alternative proteins delicious, affordable, and accessible. GFI advances open-access research, mobilizes resources and talent, and empowers partners across the food system to create a sustainable, secure, and just protein supply.

About FAIRR
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Established by the Jeremy Coller Foundation, the FAIRR Initiative is a collaborative investor network that raises awareness of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities brought about by intensive livestock production. With offices based in London, FAIRR provides cutting-edge research, best practice tools and collaborative engagement opportunities to help investors integrate these risks and opportunities into their investment decision-making and active stewardship processes.

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