Sustainable Nutrition: A New Focus for 2017

Last week I left behind the world of freelance life to start a new job. While the going was good (and smooth like this excellent William Onyeabor tune), it’s really exciting to be part of a team again and getting involved with some bigger projects. I’m at Forum for the Future and working in their food team. The big theme in my role is responding to the challenge of sustainable nutrition. This is about people eating healthy, nutritious diets of sustainably produced food.

It’s a smart concept to focus on because it brings together two major areas of concern: sustainable food production and nutrition. More often than not these concerns are considered separately and this can be problematic. For example, a business may deliver more sustainable production yet create food or a service that contributes to unhealthy lifestyles. On the flipside, advocating nutritious foods but neglecting to act on the sustainability of resources e.g. a highly wasteful system, endangered fish stocks, or foods requiring high amounts of processing and packaging. In short, sustainable food is not just about how we produce food but the types of food we produce.

Sustainable Nutrition

With the scale of challenges facing our global food system, helping businesses to view food through a sustainable nutrition lens is a smart approach. Using this approach, businesses must consider their direction of travel, the future they are shaping and the role they have. This is the other main angle to my new role at Forum; helping diagnose challenges in the food system, understanding the risks ahead and use these as a mantle for driving change. To this end, Forum have a variety of futures tools to help people draw out scenarios for the future and design for scaling up impact. After all, many of the solutions we need exist today and the challenge is identifying the levers that will help them to develop and scale.

Many of the deep and complex challenges in the food system can only be solved through collaboration; between organisations and across their supply chains. This is a critical characteristic of a healthier, more resilient future and described beautifully in John Grant’s book Co-opportunity. An example of one of Forum’s food collaborations is The Protein Challenge 2040 which is a global coalition exploring how we feed nine billion people enough protein in a way which is affordable, healthy and good for the environment.

For effective systems change, another aspect is trying to answer the question: what does it all add up to? While many organisations and governments are now creating and promoting sustainability strategies, few are able to demonstrate coherence against global challenges such as staying within 1.5°C, or helping meeting Sustainable Development Goals. Articulating what everything adds up to and embedding it deeply within a business or across a supply chain is a transformative process, and exactly the direction we should be heading.

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