I was in Switzerland a few weeks ago on invitation from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to offer remarks to top executives that are part of their Food and Nature program. The question was, what can businesses do to accelerate transformational change in food systems in light of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals?
This is not just a challenge for the business community but for all of us. How will we act into this moment? What can we do? The list is long and unfortunately there isn’t a three-point plan. Transformational change will require us to do it all – from urgently doubling down on commitments to deforestation-free supply chains, to embracing nature-based solutions such as soil carbon sequestration, to ensuring our food systems continue to provide jobs to the 1.6 billion smallholder farmers in need of fair employment, to radical consideration of the genetic diversity of crops and livestock to re-focusing food systems on food options that are healthy, safe, nutritious, and affordable, and to insisting on the participation of women, smallholders, and marginalized communities in decision-making.
We know from the transitions literature that major global transformations – the collapse of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world wide web (internet) – did not occur due to a centrally conceptualized, controlled, and implemented strategic plan or massive coordinated initiative. These transformations occurred when multiple and diverse initiatives intersected to create momentum, critical mass, and, ultimately, tipping points.
This is why we are so excited to be launching our Beacons of Hope initiative in June 2019. This initiative examined 21 “Beacons of Hope” to illuminate key elements of the transition to sustainable food systems, strengthen the connection between initiatives seeking food systems transformation, better understand the transition process, and engage in the global dialogue about systemic change.
It’s also why we have invested significantly in the TEEBAgriFood framework and recently convened 100 global true cost accounting stakeholders committed to the power, potential, and precision of economic instruments for food systems change – building momentum and critical mass in true cost accounting for food systems transformation.
And it’s why we are working with Tasting the Future on Systemic Solutions for Healthy Food Systems to engage food systems experts representing different geographies, scales, sectors, and perspectives to better understand the positive health benefits and impacts of sustainable food systems, and to identify systemic solutions that result in positive health outcomes.
We have a big agenda ahead of us. Fortunately, the Global Alliance has been blessed with strong leadership in the appointment of Jane Maland Cady and Scott Cullen as our new Co-Chairs, following the wise and expert leadership of Guillermo Castilleja; the addition of two new member foundations – the 11th Hour Project, a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation, and the David Rockefeller Fund; and the hiring of two new members of the secretariat – Patty Fong and Amanda Jekums.
In my remarks to the WBCSD, I posed the question, “Is this really possible? Can the world actually ease down below the limits and avoid collapse?” This was a question originally asked by Donella Meadows of the Academy for Systems Change. She provides her own hopeful answer, that “there is just enough time, with no time to waste. There is just enough energy, enough material, enough money, enough environmental resilience, and enough human virtue to bring about a planned reduction in the ecological footprint of humankind: a sustainability revolution to a much better world for the vast majority … This scenario might very well be wrong. But the evidence we have seen, from world data to global computer models, suggests that it could conceivably be made right. There is no way of knowing for sure, other than to try it.”
Here’s to leaning into that hope,