#61 With a little help from friends: How Nestlé plans to solve the global food crisis

 

episode 61, in association with:

 
 
 

This episode of the Better Business Show is bought to you in association with Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, working had to enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future for people all around the world. Check out nestle.com for more information.

 
 
 

Show notes

Around 795 million people go to bed hungry every night. 155 million children are stunted, meaning they won't reach their full potential. Two billion people suffer from some sort of micro-nutrient deficiency, meaning they lack in Vitamin A, zinc or iron.

Meanwhile, 2.1 billion people are either overweight or obese.

It is against this backdrop that the Planting Seeds for the Future of Food conference got underway in Vevey, Switzerland, home of the world's biggest food and drink business, Nestlé. And the Better Business Show was given exclusive access to proceedings. Enjoy this week's show.

 

 

Nestlé has been in business for 150 years and it knows that it faces some huge problems, both in terms of the environmental impact of the way it sources its raw materials and the health impacts related to its products (including under nutrition, obesity and diabetes). These are certainly interesting times to be part of a global food system under serious pressure.

As we explored during last week's episode on Hampton Creek, while it's harsh to describe the world’s current food system as being "broken" it is fair to say that the challenges it is already facing are huge.

In a nutshell, it will need to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population which will reach 10 billion by 2050; some say, our farmers will need to double the amount of food being grown by then.

And this food must be healthier, containing more protein and nutrition.

Soils

Then there's the stark reality of the environmental impact of agriculture, a sector responsible for some 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And then there’s the strain being place on farmers everywhere by climate change which, in case you were in any doubt, is massive – including the pressure on water supplies, the more erratic and hard to predict weather patterns, and the increase instances of drought or heavy rainfall.

And during the first session of the conference the always brilliant Tony Juniper set the scene beautifully, pointing to the soil beneath our feet as being both the problem and potential solution to the world’s impending food crisis.

Take a tablespoon of soil in the East of England, said Tony. There you will will find six billion organisms. "Soil is where we find organic material, it holds water, it stores carbon, keeping it from entering the atmosphere. The organisms working with the organic material means it is recycling nutrients, fostering new plant growth."

So, when soils get damaged, eroded, over-farmed, you get a depletion of organic matter and the soils just won’t produce plants, crops, raw materials in the same way. And that, he says, poses a major threat to food security.

Amazingly, one third of all agricultural soils have been degraded around the world.

At a cost

And so that biological recycling process has been replaced with chemicals and fertilisers, helping to keep pace with global food demand. But that has come at a cost.

We are all aware of the decline in bee populations. In fact, two thirds of all pollinators are under threat because of a loss of biodiversity on land everywhere. Agricultural technology and the use of chemicals has managed to damage the underpinning of agriculture. And that needs to change.

But is it possible for farming systems to adapt to become more sustainable while having the productive capacity to match consumer demand for healthy and sustainable diets? We know chemicals work, that’s why farmers use them everywhere.

The need to produce more with less, the need to protect soils, the need to reduce water consumption, the need to treat farmers well and help them to thrive, the need to move from a system based on chemistry to one that is based on biology. These were the dominant themes to emerge from the two day event.

Rice, rice baby

And we heard some really interesting examples of technology and collaboration that is helping to solve some of these challenges.

James Lomax at the UN Environment Programme told us about the Sustainable Rice Platform.

Rice is the daily staple for more than 3.5 billion people, accounting for 19% of dietary energy globally. It is a crop that provides livelihoods for more than 1 billion people and it is produced on 160 million hectares, by 144 million smallholders.

And the most incredible thing is that rice uses 34-43% of the world’s irrigation water for production and its responsible for up to 10% of global methane emissions.

James talked about methods that can save up to 30% of water in the production process, and incentivising those farmers that are taking things seriously. Of course, there’s a need to scale things up so that all big food companies engage in the programme and start finding the same sort of efficiencies. There was certainly a call for Nestlé to follow in the footsteps of Mars which recently committed to ensure all of its Uncle Ben’s rice is produced using some of the methods encouraged by the platform.

There’s also some interesting work being done by the likes of Google, as one might expect. For example, using its GPS and mapping capability to track deforestation by food companies, and how comsummables and swallowables that can aid healthier eating.

Nutrition

The second day kicked off by focusing on the importance of nutrition, not only when it comes to farmers and food companies producing and selling more food that is actually good for us, but also in relieving the pressure on the environmental impact of the entire system on the planet and our ecosystems.

But it is also about considering how our food system actually gets the right nutrition to the people that need it the most. Far too many people just aren’t getting anywhere near the right amount of the good stuff which has so many far reaching problems – from pressure on healthcare systems, education and economic development.

Heiko Schipper, Nestle’s head of nutrition said that the focus on nutrition was how Nestle started 150 years ago when Switzerland was a poor country with high infant mortality rates. Along came pharmacist Henri Nestlé who wanted to use his knowledge to save kids around him. He came up with a solution to help kids that could not be breast fed and developed the first combination of milk from the alps, and cereals and nutrients, an easy to digest solution to save the lives of infants.

He added that Nestlé’s purpose has shifted in recent years – from being the world’s biggest food and drinks company, to being a nutrition, health and wellness company. At the heart of this is a nutrition profiling system which Nestle puts all of its products through to establish just how good or bad they are.

And it has also boosted its investment in R&D – from 1.5% to 1.9% – to find ways to make all of its products more healthy, reducing sugar, salt and saturated fats, while at the same time making each product still taste great. It is no mean feat but an absolute necessity given the huge challenge the world faces.

Consumers

The focus on the consumer is an interesting one. Farmers, producers, retailers are not going to be incentivised to adopt more sustainable approaches to agriculture unless the consumer market is excited by it. We know the new generation are interested in food. They want to know what they are eating, they want to know where its come from, they want to know what’s in it, and they want to feel good about it. They’ll probably snap it and post on Instagram too.

But how do you really change mindets and behaviours at the scale needed to transform the food system?

Courage is needed

This two-day event was filled with numbers; big challenging numbers about the sheer size of the challenge that lies ahead. And it’s scary, and feels so big.

There’s no doubt about it, these types of events are crucial. People need to meet, work together, provide evidence, grab funding and scale projects up.

There is a huge need for courage. When you start to consider the need to feed the world’s 7 billion people, you can’t just turn the system off and reboot it when you’ve figured out the way forward – the wheels must continue to turn. So making the transition just seems that much more difficult.

If the world is still talking about the same numbers and challenges in 5, 10 or 15 years time, we're in trouble.

#58 What does a 'net positive' printer look like, anyway?

Meet Gareth Dinnage, the man at the helm of Seacourt, an Oxford-based printer that has spent the last 20 years slowly turning the entire dirty business of commercial printing on its head. We’ve all got print jobs we need doing – whether its for corporate reports, or marketing literature. But imagine if your printing activity had a positive impact on the planet rather than a negative one. Gareth gives the hows, whys and wherefores.


Show notes

More often than not we like to bring you stories of young, fresh, raw businesses that are based on an idea, a concept, a realisation that there is a better way. 

But we also like to bring you stories of companies that are on something of a journey, to turn their businesses around. And I think there is as much to learn from both sorts of business; and I get as much pleasure talking, writing and storytelling about both types of organisation.

And we have a bit of a gem for you on this week’s show. It falls into the latter camp. It is a business that has been around for 70 years, and it has managed to do what so many companies are trying to do right now: To change.

A notoriously dirty, toxic and wasteful industry, the commercial printing sector – the UK’s fifth largest manufacturing industry which operates in virtually all aspects of the national economy – has had to grapple with a plethora of environmental issues. From printing plates and ink tins, to pallets and packaging there is plenty of potential for generating waste. Then, high volumes of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emanate from the printing process as inks dry, sending colourless and odourless gases into the atmosphere, damaging the ozone layer, not to mention the lungs of print workers. The main oils used in non-vegetable based inks are petroleum-based too. All in all, the industry has not been a friend to the planet.

Gareth Dinnage, managing director, Seacourt

Gareth Dinnage, managing director, Seacourt

Recognising these negative attributes and a growing desire for its customers to respond more positively to their environmental responsibility, Seacourt has long found new ways of printing that do not negatively affect the environment. Back in 1997, it became one of the first commercial printers in the UK to make use of waterless printing technology.

Since then, it has continued to evolve its offering as a truly green printer, achieving stringent environmental management standards, becoming carbon neutral, switching to 100% renewable energy and even installing a wormery to make use of the thousands of teabags thrown into the office bins every year.

Seacourt reduced its VOC emissions by more than 98.5% too. And in October 2009, it became the world’s first zero waste printing company; it has no waste bins on site and sends absolutely nothing to landfill.

I’ll let Gareth, the company's managing director, tell you more about his business, which as you will hear, he does with plenty of vim and vigour.

 

 

Episode #37 - Jonathon Porritt interview: Despair, frustration and hope from the world's most famous sustainability activist

Show notes

The crash of 2008 was supposed to be a great opportunity for the Left. Radicals talked about the collapse of capitalism; the more realistic among us believed that a focus on efficiency and belt-tightening would at least offer solid ground for a sustainable world to now flourish.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way, as this week’s guest knows only too well.

He may not like to describe himself as a ‘greenie’ – not least because his work over the past 40 years has been as much about tackled economic, social and corporate strategic issues as anything else – but he is entrenched in the community – but Jonathon Porritt (pictured right) continues to bang the drum for progressive thinking, in politics, business and beyond.

And, as you’re about to find out during our extensive and wide-ranging interview this week, he continues to despair at the lack of government intervention in supporting companies of all shapes and sizes to get on the right path towards sustainability – describing as utterly pathetic, the UK government’s insistence that letting companies make voluntary commitments is enough to transform the economy.

Of course, his work at Forum for the Future – which he set up in 1996 – has seen him work directly with some of the world’s most progressive companies, like Marks & Spencer, O2 and Unilever. And today, with a focus on brining companies together to work in collaboration on a range of project, he is also helping small, agile and technologically brilliant companies to flourish too.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Reference links:

- Forum for the Future
- Jonathon's personal blog
- Forum's collaborative system change work
- the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- Unilever's approach to the SDGs
- Neal Lawson's Compass
- the More United initiative
- the Living Grid project
Open Energi
- Pukka Herbs

Episode #13 - Tumalow, saving you energy like never before

Show notes

Talking about energy efficiency is the least sexy of all sustainable business subjects. And, frankly, its a hard sell.

But then you start talking numbers and suddenly operators of mid-size companies start to pay an interest. That's certainly the case for William Gathright, CEO of Tumalow (right) (I'll let him explain what the name of the company actually means) – a company that is trying to shake up the way it helps companies reduce electricity costs and earn extra revenue for commercial properties through an intelligent battery energy storage system (BESS) software.

With most energy firms billing companies on both their consumption and their load (demand), commercial properties pay hundreds of times more than needed for electricity. In fact, the demand charge can account for 70% of a properties’s electric bill. Gathright and his team want to change all that.

"Commercial solar PV systems alone cannot reliably reduce demand charges, because a property's peak power usage frequently occurs during times the sun isn’t shining," says the company's website. That's where Tumalow’s BESS software comes into play.

You can find out more about Tumalow on the website, or follow the company on Twitter.

This video offers a useful introduction to the business too:


Elsewhere on this week's show, we chat with Jake Backus, the former customer sustainability director at Coca-Cola in Europe – a man who knows a thing or two about how you should talk to Joe Public about sustainability issues. You can find out more about Jake here.

Episode #11 - Half Moon Bay Brewing Co, making beer using waste water

America has had its fair share of resource shocks. In the 1970s, upheaval in the Middle East led to severe oil shortages, forcing Americans to sit in their cars in lines to get gas that stretched for blocks. It actually made people change vehicles for a few years at least - the big gas guzzlers made way for smaller cars. Of course, the trend for SUVs over more economical vehicles has chopped and changed in the decades since then.

But today in California, a new type of resource shock has been unfolding, and it too may come to define an era, a generation on from here.

But its not oil that is getting everybody excited this time.

It’s water.

California has been devastated by a severe drought these past four years or so. Farmers have been ripping out crops, local governments have been ordering restaurants to stop serving glasses of water except to diners who specifically request them and religious believers have been endlessly praying for rain.

And the statistics about the Californian drought are seriously scary.

2014 was the state’s driest since the start of record-keeping in 1895. The state’s snowpack, the source of roughly one-third of the water used by California cities and farms, has been hovering at only about 20 percent of its normal water content. The amount of water in certain crucial reservoirs is lower now than it was in 1977, which was one of the two prior driest years on record. 

The effects of El Nino brought plenty of rain during the winter period, but some water experts predict California’s dry spell will last for decades.

Whether California’s water shortage will lead to lasting change in the way people use this precious resource remains to be seen.

But there has certainly been plenty of action and innovation among the business community. Companies like Driscoll’s - a berry-growing business in California which is one of many that has recently signed up to an advocacy campaign being run by Ceres called Connect the Drops.

Other members of that campaign are Anheuser-Bush – the company behind Stella Artois and Budweiser – which has cut its water usage rate by 23% since 2009 in the US, resulting in water savings of more than 2.5 billion gallons.

It has been reusing its effluent in auxiliary operations to reduce needs from local sources in many breweries such as its Los Angeles brewery, and supplies its effluent to local communities at nearly 40 of its breweries globally for agricultural irrigation, watering public park and in fire-fighting.

Other companies, like Levi Strauss & Co. are making their Water<Less finishing techniques publicly available to spur water conservation across the apparel industry. The techniques reduce water use in garment finishing by up to 96% and have helped the company save more than one billion litres of water since 2011.

And our guest on this week’s show is another such company.

The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, situated just outside San Francisco, is making beer using the water that has already run through sinks, showers and bathrooms – using the technology pioneered by Nasa to recycle water to make it safe to drink while in space.

The trouble is, state legislation declares the beer not fit to sell – a situation the owner of the business, Lenny Mendonca is keen to rectify.

Enjoy the show.

For more on the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co, visit the website.

Here's the links to the various stories mentioned in our news section this week.

The PA Consulting report on EU car manufacturers.

News of Apple's efforts to boost the break-down-ability (is that a word) of its products.

The supply chain survey by the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability

And finally, Coca-Cola Enterprises major investment.

Episode #5 - Tony Juniper + how the world's biggest paper company is atoning for its sins

Show notes

APP is one of the biggest pulp and paper companies in the world, based in Jakarta, Indonesia. It manufactures about 18 million tonnes of paper products a year and sells them into 120 countries.

And it is a company that has faced a number of run-ins with the NGO community over its practices, with Greenpeace its most vocal critic once labelling APP the world’s "worst destroyer of pristine forest".

In 2011, Greenpeace ramped up its campaign against APP when it targeted the LA headquarters of the toy company Mattel – a huge buyer of packaging from APP – unveiling a huge poster across the front of the building featuring Ken dumping Barbie (made by Mattel) with the slogan, "Barbie: It's over. I don't date girls that are into deforestation.”

Mattel quickly ended its association with APP, as did 130 other global companies wanting to distance themselves from a company with close links to deforestation of the Indonesian rainforest.

APP had to act. And act it did; in an extraordinary turn of events, APP and Greenpeace teamed up to work together on a new zero deforestation policy for the business. In early 2013, Greenpeace promised it would suspend active campaigning, after three years of continuous protest against the business.

APP’s new Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) promised an immediate moratorium on any further forest clearance by all of its Indonesian suppliers, as well as a pledge that independent assessments would be conducted to establish areas for protection. It was a big success for Greenpeace and APP’s move was described by environmentalist Tory MP Zac Goldsmith as the “most dramatic turnaround of any global green villain ever seen”.

Three years on and things have progressed further, with a range of new commitments made by APP, including:

  • Block 3,500 perimeter canals to increase water levels in APP suppliers’ concessions located on peatland
  • 7,000 dams to be built by end of first quarter of 2016.
  • Already retired 7,000 hectares of commercial plantation areas in Riau and South Sumatra (announced August 2015).
  • APP and suppliers allocated 600,000 hectares for forest conservation and ecosystem restoration within suppliers’ concessions.
  • During the COP21 UN climate negotiations in December, APP announced a new Integrated Forestry and Farming System Programme to help local communities develop alternative livelihoods to achieve economic development while also keeping Indonesia’s forests intact.

To support all of this activity is the new Belantara Foundation, initiated by APP to offer funding that can be used to pay for rainforest protection. The company says the Foundation will channel public and private sector finance direct to local communities that are carrying out forest conservation projects in Indonesia. 

While billions of dollars has been pledged for forest conservation around the world, too little of it has made an impact on the ground, according to APP which is keen to use its leverage and reach as the biggest private concession holder in Indonesia to offer an effective way of making sure funding reaches the right people to pay for the right projects. “We will start by investing our own funds…but hope that in a short time others will follow,” says Aida Greenbury, APP’s managing director of sustainability.

And Tony Juniper - the star of this week's show and once a fierce critic of APP – is on the Belantara advisory board, continuing his association with the company to help it implement its mission to protect and restore 1 million hectares of forest in the years ahead.