“Rather than bending nature to produce food, food can be designed for nature to thrive”

Anna Triponel

September 26, 2021
Our key takeaway: The food sector is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and biodiversity loss, but its sheer size, scope and reach can be leveraged to mainstream better ways of farming, producing and distributing food—to produce better outcomes for the planet, better livelihoods for farmers and better products for people.  

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a new study showing how, “rather than bending nature to produce food, food can be designed for nature to thrive”:

  • With great impact comes the opportunity for great influence: The food sector is a major contributor to climate change: “As the primary driver of biodiversity loss and accounting for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is now well-established that food needs to be a crucial part of the solution to climate change and biodiversity loss. Leading FMCGs [Fast-Moving Consumer Goods Companies] and retailers have substantial influence on the food system: in the EU and UK, for example, 40% of agricultural land use is influenced by the top 10 FMCGs and retailers.” These companies can have a significant impact on both emissions and biodiversity loss just by rethinking their product portfolios for more “nature-positive” solutions that align with circular economy principles.
  • Circular design for food: “Circular design for food – the combining of food design with the principles of the circular economy – offers an actionable framework to redesign product portfolios for nature-positive outcomes. It encompasses rethinking product concepts, ingredient selection and sourcing, and packaging.” The report finds that combining four ingredient selection and sourcing opportunities can “unlock substantial environmental, economic, and yield benefits”: (1) Using diverse ingredients in products supports genetic diversity of crops and food supply resilience. (2) Using lower impact ingredients, like plant proteins instead of animal proteins, or replacing conventional flour with alternatives, reduces GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. (3) Using upcycled ingredients (food and by-products that would otherwise be discarded) “alleviates pressure on land and maximises return on invested land, energy, and other inputs used to grow food.” (4) Incorporating ingredients produced using regenerative agriculture techniques may lead to more profitability and higher yields for farmers, while also “generating significant climate and biodiversity benefits.”
  • Five company actions “to make nature-positive food mainstream”: (1) “Create ambitious and well-resourced action plans to make nature-positive product portfolios a reality.” (2) “Create a new collaborative dynamic with farmers.” (3) “Develop iconic products to showcase the potential of circular design for food.” (4) “Contribute to and use common on-farm metrics and definitions.” (5) “Advocate for policies that support a nature-positive food system.”

For more, see Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The Big Food Redesign: Regenerating Nature With the Circular Economy (September 2021)

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