The Surprising Hidden Cost of Your Food

Have you ever wondered about how your food has found its way to you?

How much does your food cost?

No, I’m not talking about swiping your card at the checkout. 

I’m talking about the food supply chain.

SustainAbility, advisers in enabling businesses to operate more sustainably, recently hosted an online discussion with some thought leaders on coming up with better ways of managing the food supply chain from seed to consumer. The session was part of the Zayed Sustainability Prize webinar series.

“What’s that to do with me?”, you ask.  Plenty.

Did you know that food production is responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions?  Or that it accounts for around 70% of freshwater usage?

Big Action Needs Big Goals

Maybe you’ve heard of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which all UN Member States signed up to in 2015. Here they are:

UN sustainability development goals
UN Sustainability Development Goals – the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all

Any guesses on the target date for completing these Goals? 

2030.  So we have a little less than 10 years left to make some serious headway.

Looking at the impact of food production statistics above, we have a long way to go, and there’s a REAL need for change.

The cost of food waste, for example, is estimated at around $1t.  You read that right – that’s a trillion. And something like 25% of residential waste comes from inefficient packaging, such as single-use plastics.

So to summarise, we have a big, complex problem, and the clock is counting down to solve it.  Sounds like a case for superheroes, doesn’t it.

Examples Are All Around Us

Fortunately, there are superheroes all around us, disguised as normal humans and sometimes companies.

The 2019 GlobeScan-SustainAbility Leaders Report surveyed 800+ experts representing business, government, NGOs and academia across 78 countries on which companies are making the largest contribution to advancing the sustainable development agenda. Who would you think tops the list?

If you guessed Unilever, you were right (but I’m guessing you probably didn’t). Yet the giant consumer goods company has in fact been top-ranked for the past 9 years. Impressive. 

Other leaders include Patagonia (outdoor clothing and equipment), IKEA, Toyota, Tesla, Danone and Natura (owner of The Body Shop and Avon).

So there are companies out there who are really working hard to make a difference. Check out the report here.

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today”, Malcolm X

What Can We Do?

What about you, can you be a superhero?  Well sure, we all can! Even Superman gets dressed one leg at a time (it’s just that he puts his underwear on last).

Changing our food supply chain happens at both ends of the chain.  Producers and distributors innovate and improve; consumers dictate what they want, and how, when and where they want it.

That gives each of us a lot more control than we might think. Have you, like so many during the COVID-19 crisis, reverted to a big weekly shop rather than numerous smaller top-ups? Multiply that impact by a million consumers and think of the different demands we are asking of the supply chain. That allows distributors to deliver economies of scale (eg fewer delivery trucks), but ultimately the same number of lettuces need to be transported.

Have you started growing your own food at home, in your garden, a communal plot or maybe indoors? What was a natural part of life not so long ago almost disappeared, but is now back with a rush. A million home-growers, now THAT really starts to change the game.

That’s a lot less fertilizer and pesticide required in the fields.

Less packaging.

And less transportation cost both financially and environmentally.

And nutrition benefits aside, your salad seems to taste so much better when you’ve grown it yourself.

Pretty blonde looking at tomato plant at home in the garden
Nothing beats the smell of tomatoes on the vine at home in the garden

What Will You Do?

So step forward superheroes. Let’s reshape the food supply chain around us.  Working together with like-minded consumers and businesses, every Goal is within our reach.

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