What does a healthy and sustainable future really look like?

By Rodrigo Lima*
Monday, 13 January, 2020

What does a healthy and sustainable future really look like?

Healthy bodies need healthy food, and healthy food needs a healthy planet. It’s a simple truth we all acknowledge, yet there is much work to be done if we are to secure a future that ensures both nutritional and environmental good health.

As demonstrated by September’s climate strike that saw 80,000 people converge on Sydney’s The Domain, and as countless more gathered in cities around Australia and the world, young people in particular are deeply and justifiably concerned about all that is not being done. And whether through their calls for direct climate action, championing of environmentally accountable businesses, or a growing eagerness to support sustainable food, they are speaking with a clear voice.

With this in mind, it is more important than ever for us to show them that we are listening, that they are heard and that we are instigating the change that will create the healthy and sustainable future they deserve.

But what does this sustainable future look like and can we still get there? We should start that conversation with a recent update from the United Nations in the form of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report. Both illuminating and disheartening, the report warned that without significant changes to land use and farming practices, the effects of climate change will be devastating. With horrifying fires devastating much of Australia acting as a harbinger of even greater climate crises to come, the impact of Australia’s changing environment is becoming clear.

The challenge before us is incredibly daunting in its scale and urgency, but it’s important to remember that every single one of us has the power to affect change locally that will then have ramifications on a larger scale. Even something as simple as making small changes to our habits as consumers can have considerable impact, because each time we eat and drink, we vote for the world we want to live in.

The influence of consumers exercising heightened food awareness

Let’s take heightened food awareness — a crucial element of any long-term sustainability plan — as an example. Consumers exercising heightened food awareness try to buy locally, which increases their chances of eating fresher, less preservative-laden fare, but it also shortens the food supply chain, reducing the likelihood of food waste.

With up to 30% of all food produced for human consumption wasted every year, this is an issue that takes an enormous toll on the environment, and its reduction will be an essential step in combating climate change and reaching a place of sustainability.

This kind of purchasing power harnessed correctly incentivises brands to act responsibly and encourages them to show their dedication to the issues that consumers hold dear, like ethical water usage, the reduction of plastics and packaging, the meeting of emissions targets or sustainable farming practices that reduce carbon production.

We are already seeing the food and beverage industry respond to this consumer shift, introducing circular economy initiatives for packaging, reduced energy use, measures to deliver increased efficiency and the increase of regenerative agricultural practices that improve soil health and take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by sequestering it in the ground.

These are measures that Danone is already putting in place. In particular, we are currently developing a circular economy for our packaging to ensure it will never escape our supply chains to enter the natural world, and we are working to ensure 100% of it is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

The importance of industry proactivity

Naturally, brands shouldn’t wait for consumers to force their hand to make these kinds of changes.

There’s no reason for companies — particularly those operating in the food and retail sectors — not to play a proactive role in the creation of a sustainable future by transforming their business models; trading the poorly performing food systems that currently contribute to the aforementioned food wastage in favour of new models based on foundations of sustainability. Doing so will ensure these brands help in securing the future we all want, while also attracting more environmentally conscious customers, both of which are good for business.

As a close-to-home example of what can be done, in 2019 we invested NZ$40 million to ensure our Nutricia spray drying plant on New Zealand’s South Island — a facility that converts milk into dry powder through heat application — achieves 100% carbon neutrality by 2021. This industry-leading milestone will be primarily driven by a NZ$30 million state-of-the-art biomass boiler that has been designed to reduce the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 20,000 tonnes per year.

Anything is possible

Although daunting, industry action needn’t be an overwhelming burden. As a first step, we are currently re-inventing all our business processes so that we can operate sustainably day to day. Whether by moving towards our target of 50% renewable electricity by 2020 or by halving our CO2 footprint by 2030, these are measures we are taking to secure a healthy planet, healthy food and healthy bodies for the generations to come.

We are committed to achieving complete carbon neutrality across our full value chain by 2050, meaning we’ll take responsibility for everything, from the carbon emissions produced by the farms we source ingredients from to the facilities that manage packaging once our products are consumed. Taking this kind of responsibility is essential for a sustainable future.

I can’t stress enough that daunting as it may seem, adopting these new behaviours is entirely within our grasp, and to do otherwise would mean irresponsibly turning a deaf ear to the young people of Australia and the world.

*Rodrigo Lima is the Oceania General Manager of Nutricia, which is part of one of the world’s largest food and drink companies, Danone.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/SasinParaksa

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