The last 60 years have been good to you. You’ve probably never run out of affordable food or cheap energy and you’ll likely live longer than your grandparents. What’s more, you can travel anywhere in the world in less than a day, and access virtual omniscience from the palm of your hand. Life is very, very good.
There’s just one problem. This wealth has a cost. And unfortunately, until today, either because we’ve either not been aware of it, or because we’ve believed it was an acceptable trade-off, we’ve kind of being ignoring it.
Our ‘good’ lives are underpinned by a complex collection of interlocking supply chains. Most of these are very brittle – put too much pressure on them and they’ll shatter. Many supply chains are also making life worse for the proportion of humanity and other species. And that’s before we start thinking about what they’re doing to the planet.
Fortunately, we get to do something about this. We get to rewire civilisation to keep delivering the good life without any of the bad.
That’s our mission with FoodTrade. We’re creating connections between anyone in the food industry who believes in fairer, more resilient supply chains that help rather than hurt. We believe that’s how we can unlock the full potential of our food system.
Here’s a great example. Good soil can do (at least) three things: one, produce nutritious crops; two, reduce flooding and mitigate drought; three, lock-up a lot of our carbon emissions. So it’s a real shame that the demands of modern farming mean that 40% of global farmland is so degraded it can’t even do one of these well.
So obviously, one thing that FoodTrade does is make it easier for businesses to trade with those farms that DO attend to soil health. But the benefits of good soil are just the beginning…
Because it turns out those nutritious crops have their own rewards. The schools in the excellent Food For Life programme saw their pupils do twice as well when they ate a healthy, fresh, locally sourced diet. And when a hospital in Nottingham offered a similar standard of food, they cut packaging and energy use, reduced food waste, took more pride in their work, learned new skills and saved £800,000 per year. The same trend is true for prisons, business canteens and of course our homes.
The opportunity is right in front of us. We can structure our food system to waste so much less and give so much more. And the only extra inputs we need are knowledge and attention.
As the “Jamie Generation” comes of age, this gets easier. Global organic sales are up 25% and box schemes are seeing 10% annual growth. More people are using food to create active livelihoods, develop strong local economies and contribute to a healthier and more equitable world.
We’ll need about 100,000 more farmers to fix the food system in the UK. That’s a lot of healthy livelihoods, before you even start counting the bakers, butchers and bee-keepers. That’s exciting.
But what’s even better, is that what’s true in the food system is true in most supply chains.
We want to live in a world that makes sense. Where we can buy a shirt and know it’s been made by someone who is happy and safe, using materials that are good for us and good for the planet. We want to know that our mobile phones are not contributing to a civil war in the DRC and that the paint in our houses isn’t polluting rivers in Romania.
We’re at a tipping point. Our demand for better, plus the challenges of climate change and resource scarcity, mean that huge change is inevitable. It’s up to all of us to make sure that change is a good one.
You’ll need to be brilliant and audacious to re-think most of what you know, and to re-write most of the rules. But fortunately, your brilliance and audacity are in no short supply.
The future is yours to shape. You have everything you need to make it happen. Get to work.
Ed Dowding is the founder of FoodTrade, which helps businesses map their supply chain to avoid risk, showcase provenance, and help them find ways to trade and collaborate more effectively. He recommends that everyone reads the Zero Carbon Britain 2030 report, watches a lecture from the Rocky Mountain Institute, and looks at Virgin’s B-Team for further inspiration.
Calling all young sustainability entrepreneurs!
Unilever and Ashoka Changemakers are looking for the next generation of leaders. Do you have an inspiring solution? Enter it to the competition today.