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Sustainability is no longer enough to tackle current challenges. We need to aim higher and shift our food system towards regeneration.
Growing challenges in a changing food system
The transformation of the food system over the last 70 years is a remarkable achievement. The food and drink sector has been a highly successful problem solver and provider for consumers.
But over recent decades, it’s become increasingly clear that there have been unsustainable, long-term consequences. Three interconnected but distinct challenges have emerged:
The food industry is uniquely central to all three challenges and the way they are connected.
Governments, the food sector and civil society organisations have made huge and increasing efforts to tackle these challenges and make the food system more sustainable. This work is vital and continues, but all participants in the food system must recognise that transformational change is now needed urgently.
Code-red warnings on the need for change
A stark ‘code red’ warning that urgent action is required to keep global warming to under 1.5 degrees and avoid huge damage to agricultural systems and public health around the world was flagged in the IPPC’s authoritative report in August 2021.
However, the COP-26 Summit in Glasgow shortly afterwards, for all the commitment of its participants, could not agree a pathway to avoid that scenario, although it created future opportunities to do so.
The Covid-19 pandemic, followed closely by the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, one of the so-called ‘breadbaskets of the world’, has laid bare the fragility and inter-dependency of food supply chains, as well as the growing risks to global food security and public health.
We must now move beyond business-as-usual and develop transformative pathways for change.
Solutions: The regenerative approach
Time is running out to simply settle for the status quo. We have to try harder. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in which Nestlé is an active participant, has framed the business journey as the need to move from a ‘do no harm’ model to a regenerative approach.
A Compass for Just and Regenerative Business, 2021, Forum for the Future and WBCSD
Industry can and should take a leading role in this transformation, but it can only succeed through collaboration with all the stakeholders in the food system, including scientists, policy makers, financiers and investors, and civil society organisations.
From an industry perspective, the most important stakeholders in the food system are, of course, consumers themselves. And there is a fundamental difference between the challenges of the post-war period and the challenges we now face.
Retaining choice and affordability
After the Second World War there followed a period of strong consumer demand for choice, convenience and affordability, which our market-based system evolved to meet. The transformation we now require is far more challenging because consumer demand for healthier, sustainable food is still at an early stage. Choice, convenience and affordability remain the main drivers of demand. So supporting consumer change and making healthy, sustainable food available and affordable for all is an important part of food system transformation.
It’s Nestlé’s hope to scale and speed up collaborative efforts to move beyond ‘doing no harm’ towards a regenerative food system for the future. Moving in this direction also informs and contributes towards our climate action initiatives to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.