Appetite for Change
In just the last few weeks, one of the worst E. coli outbreaks in history has killed 37 people and made more than 2,600 ill, academics concluded that climate change will have more negative consequences for agriculture than expected, and the UN’s Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization released a guide warning “world farming needs a ‘major shift’ to more sustainable practices as intensive crop production since the 1960s has degraded soils, depleted ground water and caused pest outbreaks.”
Industry and food system experts interviewed for SustainAbility’s latest report, Appetite for Change, read trends such as these and conclude that the food industry is failing. Our experts sounded loud and clear that there is widespread awareness of the key challenges faced by the food system, but that there is a startling lack of consensus on the path forward. Food industry leader Marks & Spencer says of itself that it “has only done 10% of what it needs to become sustainable.” While it and other companies can point to many sustainability achievements, they acknowledge too the difficulty of finding ways to reach their more ambitious sustainability goals at sufficient pace and scale.
Imagining and creating a sustainable food system will require new kinds of leadership from those with appetite for change. Key attributes of the type of leadership necessary include:
- Redefined Vision, encompassing sometimes unfamiliar or unconventional concepts like fair shares, closed loops, ‘un-innovating’ or simplification, and new notions of productivity.
- Application of Systemic Approaches, capable of building networks and fostering mosaics as well as developing more inclusive approaches to agriculture.
- Use of Information Technology, which will make more robust the web of interactions and knowledge sharing mechanisms necessary to support a sustainable food system.
- Better understanding of Societal Needs, in order to re-value food, and to understand and then transform food-related policy and politics.
To date, the best models for systemic change have been developed outside the corporate sphere – through entrepreneurs and at smaller, more local levels. Calls from the policy sphere, and from the UN Human Rights Council (PDF) and UN FAO, likewise are challenging the status quo. Is industry up for the challenge?