Earth Day And Investing In Our Planet - Charles Banks

From tfp co-founder and director Charles Banks

Earth Day 2022 serves as a poignant reminder that despite the other forces that continue to dominate the world stage, now is the time for the unstoppable courage to preserve and protect our health, our families, our livelihoods… together, we must Invest In Our Planet. And while there is still time to solve the climate crisis, time to choose BOTH a prosperous and sustainable future, and time to restore nature and build a healthy planet for our next generations and their children, time is very short.

Change is beginning to happen both in and outside of food and drink. Looking beyond food and drink for a moment, here are some of the cross industry sustainability trends that we expect to manifest over the coming years. This is summarised from a great report by Kate Cawley and the team at Veris Strategies.

  • Goal Focus - Businesses will increasingly be judged on performance against external rather than internal goals. Organisations should expect greater scrutiny of both goal setting and goal success as they prioritise action in this area.
  • Proving Provenance - Businesses will start to engage in actions and approaches to remove any murkiness behind their processes, products and supply chains. As provenance becomes a virtue, working out what information is safe or relevant to share, and with whom to share it with, will become a new type of risk assessment as companies grabble with issues of trust, competition and reputation.
  • End of Speed Solve - The trend for green polarisation should start to fade, enabling more pragmatic thinking on topics such as plastics and packaging. The quest to 'speed solve' these issues has sometimes resulted in over-simplified solutions and worse outcomes. As these scenarios play out over the next decade, businesses are likely to become less reactionary to such pressures and instead take more proactive approach in addressing the deep-seated problems these dilemmas pose.
  • System Shift - the decade where systems thinking gets translated into action at scale giving rise to universal solutions that work, not isolated fixes that fail. Systems thinking involves companies understanding that their actions occur within a larger context, in which everything is interconnected. The circular economy is one example of this. Businesses can expect greater engagement and co-creation through non-traditional partnerships – joining forces with governments, cities and civil groups – as they start to position themselves as problem solvers for a better world.
  • Tech for good - Leveraging Fourth Industrial Revolution breakthroughs to support problem-solving will become the norm as businesses look to harness digital technology to act more responsibly. Advances in fields such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and biotechnology will all drive transformational change – whether its improving land use, air and water quality, making supply chains more transparent or changing the way we consume.
  • Generation Z will make up much of the workforce in 2030 - These post-Millennials are being tagged the 'True Gen' – the generation engaged in searching for truth. Businesses will need to rethink how they engage and deliver to a new breed of digital natives that can fact-check and cross- reference with a few swipes. Transparency, business ethics and prosumer models will be prioritised given that Gen Z will want to work for organisations they can be proud of, my teenage daughters speak often about this to me.
  • Beyond Net zero - As 2050 comes into greater focus, Net Zero commitments may fade in favour of Climate Positive. By removing additional CO2 from the atmosphere, perhaps based on a percentage of their overall emissions profile, businesses can put more back into the environment than they take out. A key differentiator will be not relying on carbon offsetting to meet this goal, but rather being proactive in areas of identified materiality.Add alt text

Now, thinking about food and drink, there are many areas of trend manifestation that are driven by the rise in awareness of food and drinks' role in broader sustainability but there are 8 of those that we expect to continue to gain traction during 2022 and beyond. Like many complex societal challenges there isn't one answer.

1 - Carbon and Eco Labelling – Making positive choice easier for consumers. One of the biggest issues for consumers is around trust in information to make a positive and informed choice, this will enable personal accountability for carbon impact, we see this as an increasing force for change into the future. Any eco labelling needs to be simple to communicate, applicable to all foods, fair to all food types and encourage positive change at an industry and consumer level. As information is one of the biggest barriers to making positive choice, we expect this to gain real momentum.

2 – Deforestation Free Commodities – Reducing the impacts of the weekly food shop. During COP26 in Glasgow, major food and agricultural companies committed to halt deforestation by 2030. We saw the launch of a new $345 million, seven-year program, The Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program, which will launch projects in 27 countries, targeting the production and value chains of eight key commodities: beef, cocoa, coffee, maize, palm oil, rice, soy, and wheat. In addition, we saw the launch of a partnership between WWF and five of the UK's biggest supermarkets who pledged to halve the environmental impact of a weekly food shop by the end of the decade. 80% of global deforestation is driven by the global trade in tropical commodities, such as soya and palm oil, expect to see increasing pressure, focus and scrutiny on public and private sector policies aimed at addressing deforestation from food commodities.

3 – Local Food – Reducing the reliance on over exposed species and global supply chains. There has been significant attention and scrutiny on the resilience of our global commodity chains and centralised distribution networks in the light of the pandemic. In the UK we import over 70% of our fresh fruit and vegetables, which are predominantly sold through of highly centralised retail dominated system. Expect to see much more demand for a greater diversity of nutritious, seasonal, culturally appropriate, and local foods. In addition, companies like Row Seven Seeds are exploring the use of heritage or forgotten crops, cereals, grains, vegetables, roots and seeds that have largely been neglected by major research and retail. Today 75% of the global food supply comes from only 12 plant and five animal species. Just three (rice, maize, wheat) make up nearly 60% of calories from plants in the human diet – and yet there are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world, many of which are nutrient rich and may well be be more suited to our rapidly changing climatic conditions.

4 – Less but Better Regenerative and Agroecological Farming – Greater Scrutiny and on Farm Metrics. Regenerative agriculture is creating buzz in farming – but how regenerative agriculture is defined is the big question – and the term means different things to different people. Expect the 'buzz' around regenerative agriculture to continue but with a shift from a discussion of principles to outcomes. There are growing concerns about 'corporate greenwashing' of regenerative agriculture so expect more scrutiny on organisations delivering results with greater attention on the development of on farm metrics, which will be required to monitor impacts. There are number of ongoing studies underway and progressive businesses in this space such as The Ethical Butcher as an example. Watch out for the rise in agroecology in 2022 – Agroecology builds on the accumulated knowledge and practices which farming cultures have built up over centuries, adapting to their ecological and climatic conditions. These are the foundational principles that Peter Grieg and the team at Pipers Farm employ on their farms to rear animal in harmony with nature.

5 – Focus on waste Reduction and Up-Cycling – adding value to nutritionally dense by-product. Recently WWF and Tesco published Driven to Waste, a new report that quantifies the total amount of food lost on farms globally, revealing an estimated 2.5 billion tonnes of food goes uneaten around the world each year. That is an increase of approximately 1.2 billion tonnes on the established estimates of 1.3 billion tonnes wasted each year. These new estimates indicate that of all the food grown, approximately 40 per cent goes uneaten, which is higher than the previously estimated figure of 33%. We expect to see increasing focus on food waste and the up-cycling of by-product as well as positive, front of pack messaging around and even chefs talking more about the use of waste. A great example is EverGrain, recently voted in the top 10 most innovative companies in the US. EverGrain is a sustainable ingredient company by AB InBev, the world's largest brewing group. They transform barley grains into high quality, nutritional ingredients that are rich in protein and fibre that can be added to bread, bakery but also sauces and convenience meals. It's one of the most sustainable sources of plant protein and fibre - Up to 5x Better GHG, Over 40x Better Land Use, Lowest Water Use of Any Fibre Source.

6 – Transparent and Traceable – a greater connection between farmer and consumer. The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of global food supply chains with increasing scrutiny and debate on the resilience of our global commodity chains and centralised distribution networks. Technological innovations to improve traceability of food value chains will continue with greater emphasis on connecting farmer to consumer – Capturing data from IOT, sensors and blockchain and the use of AI will help provide more visibility with regard to health, climate, community impacts, water usage and food waste impacts. The work that Princes have done in Tuna and with their Napolina tomatoes is a great case in point that clearly and conveniently tell the sustainability story of the 250 million units of tomato products it manufactures each year.

7 – A Packaged Food Re-think – challenging the need and sourcing of packaging by consumers and industry alike. More food brands than ever are questioning the sourcing of their packaging materials and there will be continued pressure to do so as plastic waste continues to feature in consumer and industry press. They're looking for processes that are sustainable and that will help them reduce their carbon footprint. Some companies are turning to cardboard packaging alternatives whilst others are beginning to experiment with bioplastics. Also expect to see a move towards edible packaging options made from rice paper, seaweed, or corn-starch. For those that participated in the London Marathon will have been handed a Notpla hydration drinks capsule. We seeing similar technology being developed for use in stocks and sauces.

8 – A New Protein System – Slaughter Free Sustainable Animal Protein? The possibility of creating meat in a laboratory is moving ever closer despite the challenges which are numerous – consumer acceptance, cost, scalability and of course regulatory approval. To date, only one lab-grown product has received permission to be served to the public: chicken bites produced by US company Eat Just, which were approved in Singapore in December 2020. Eat Just has shown that these factors are difficult but not impossible to overcome through its operations in Singapore. The technology receives the developmental support of some governments too particularly in Singapore and Israel combing this with US led tech, this is driving a new pace of development. Over 70 companies globally poured 1.2bn of investment into this area in 2020 and even more in 2021. So it's key for us to consider – what could this disruptor mean for our agricultural and farming systems, businesses, brands and consumer attitudes to animal and plant based food alike. These technologies, if regulatory, approved have the potential to disrupt what we consider as meat but thinking beyond meat, there are a plethora of lab grown everyday food stuffs waiting in the wings including honey, coffee, chocolate to name a few.

To summarise, in the words of Earth Day 2022 - We need to act (boldly), innovate (broadly), and implement (equitably). It's going to take all of us. All in. Businesses, governments, and citizens — everyone accounted for, and everyone accountable.