Emma Chow and Eliot Beeby on how circular design for food is crucial for regenerating landscapes, and how large food companies can lead it

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Emma Chow and Eliot Beeby of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Food Initiative recently published The Big Food Redesign, a report that shows how rather than bending nature to produce food, food can be designed for nature to thrive. A conversation about the importance of circular redesign in food production and the critical role of FMCG companies in leading the production of not only more healthy but more sustainable food. 

LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:

Most products we buy in the supermarket come from very few large companies also known as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG ) companies. Many FMCG companies have made big commitments about climate change and biodiversity, but are they enough? Can’t they do better?  How big are the differences between better sourcing only and actually doing full food circular redesign?

Why Responsible Sourcing Isn’t Enough 

Statistics prove that circular redesign is much more effective than settling for responsible sourcing. According to research, circular redesign for food production can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% and biodiversity loss by 50%. Further, it can increase total food output and yield by 50%, triggering USD 3,100 increase in farmer profitability per hectare. These are much better than what responsible sourcing could do, which is 50% greenhouse gas reduction, 20% biodiversity loss reduction, 5% increase in total food output with a USD 200 increase in farmers’ profitability per hectare. 

“It all starts with design. We can’t just try and incrementally improve the sourcing of current ingredients; we actually need to rethink what foods are being offered on the market.” – Emma Chow

The Four Key Design Principles 

Circular redesign for food production, which is based on three principles of eliminating waste and pollution, circulating nutrients and products at their highest value, and regenerating nature, takes many factors such as foods’ appearance, taste, price, and nutrition into consideration. Hence, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation had to come up with intricate design principles to make their model work. They believe that using diverse ingredients, low-impact ingredients, upcycled ingredients, and regeneratively produced ingredients can provide the most benefits. 

“If you embed that [regenerative outcomes] in the product concept, and if you set targets, embedding nature-positive regenerative targets in the product brief, then that can give the product development team much clearer incentives to design for these outcomes.” – Eliot Beeby 

Nature-Positive Food for All 

There are already tons of companies that are committed to supporting the climate fight and increasing biodiversity. Many have also been open to de-risking their supply chains for more sustainable alternatives. Nature-positive food as the norm is possible if the industry and the government work together in revolutionizing the way we design food output. Circular redesign should be the new way we do things if we like tasty, nutritious, sustainable, and profitable food for all. 

“If you’re designing food products with the intention of them having regenerative outcomes from the start, then you can really achieve these quite impressive outcomes at the end.” – Eliot Beeby 

The Role of FMCG Companies 

FMCG companies, especially the major ones, play quite a huge role in our shift to regeneration. Emma believes that to get on the right path towards the regeneration campaign, the ‘action areas’ should materialize first in the big companies for others to follow. These action areas include creating ambitious action plans, reinvigorating relationships with farmers, having iconic products and metrics with a good foundation, and advocating for policies that can support a nature-positive food system. 

“Once you overcome what you thought wouldn’t even be a threshold you could break, suddenly, everyone’s able to do it.” – Emma Chow

Other Points Discussed 

Koen, Emma, and Eliot also talked about: 

  • The role of investors that have access to big companies;
  • How we must have a deeper understanding of what regenerative and regeneration really are and can be; 
  • How we should lean into complexity rather than be scared of it as it is inherent in regenerative systems; 
  • How we should invest in supporting farmers during the transition;
  • How we should target money towards the types of interventions which have much bigger and longer-term payoffs.

To know more about Emma Chow and Eliot Beeby and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, download and listen to this episode. 

LINKS:

LINKED INTERVIEWS:

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