Fresh thinking: Industry leaders form coalition to unlock trillions through sustainable practices

A new coalition has been formed to help businesses access trillions of dollars available through sustainable practices ©iStock

The Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) programme is aiming to bring private and public sector together to achieve the UN's sustainable development goals for 2030, an achievement that could bring over €2 trillion to the food industry. 

The ‘conference of parties’ is led by the EAT foundation and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and aims to coordinate a drive towards improved global nutrition and sustainability.

An initial 25 global businesses joined the coalition, including Nestlé, Unilever, Danone and Kellogg. A spokesperson for FReSH said new companies are joining at a rate of one a day. Universities from around the world and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are also involved. 

FReSH did not comment its funding, but said all members were contributing and the EU had made a substantial donation and was interested in investing far more. 

Untapped trillions 

The formation of FReSH comes just days after the release of a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) showing a potential US$2.3 trillion (€2.1 trillion) annually for the private sector if the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are met.

The SDGs are a set of 17 targets to be reached by 2030; the global food system was identified as key to many of these targets including reducing climate change, water shortages, world hunger and malnutrition, land degradation and biodiversity loss.  

The report also forecast a potential 80 million jobs worldwide if the targets are met by 2030, or 2% of the projected global labour force.

The majority of these opportunities, the report said, are located in developing countries. Roughly 21 million jobs in Africa, 22 million in India, 12 million in China and 15 million in the rest of Asian developing countries could be created, it said. 

‘The time for talk is over’

Fokko Wintjes, head of FReSH and vice-president of nutrition and emerging markets at supplement manufacturer and nutrition giant DSM said that bringing the public and private sectors together is vital for reaching these goals.

Nearly 100% of food globally is produced and supplied by the private sector, creating a cooperation of scientists, academics and policy makers is the only way to unlock the potential found in the BSDC report, he said.

“Time for talk is over and its time we really start to deal with some of the major challenges in the food system, we’ve been dealing with individual bits of agriculture, efficiency, climate change, public health challenges – but what is missing is that we address all this as one rather than piecemeal it."

Wietjes said the coalition would be split: “On the one side we have the committee looking into evidence and into creating a scientific framework, and on the other a large business coalition that can come up with solutions and skill and solutions that address all the challenges – climate change, obesity and water shortages and so on.

"There are four areas we will be addressing – creating healthy and sustainable diets, producing these diets sustainably, engaging consumers to make them aspire to the same goals, and improving trade and distribution."

It is with the consumers that the emphasis will first be placed, said Wietjes. However, this bottom up approach may not encompass the kind of systemic action called for by the BSDC report. 

Fraser Thomson, a co-author of the report and director of AlphaBeta, an economic advisory committee, said that whilst projects like FReSH are certainly to be encouraged, "the focus of FReSH is largely on the consumer-end of the supply chain, and it will be important to not lose sight of the upstream opportunities." 

Thomson added that FReSH should be focussing on raising capital; investment required to reach the SDGs is estimated to be minimum $320 billion and current sustainable agriculture funds represent only 1.5% of this. 

Winners and Losers 

The coalition remains open to private businesses and public organisations, something FReSH believes to be major opportunity for those involved in any aspect of the global food system. 

Wietjes said: "I believe that those that are in this first will be the ones who can position themselves and invest; the changing energy system for example will have winners and it will have losers, and those that are involved in the new food system now will profit in the future.

"This is the start of another approach in food and those engaged, those who are close to the action, they will win in the end."

The EAT forum in June this year we will be showcasing the first public results from FReSH, and detailing an action plan for the years to come. 

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