Striving for Sustainable Consumption

ANALYSIS - Market forces alone will not be enough to deliver sustainable consumption because of commercial tensions in the supply chain, writes Chris Harris.
calendar icon 12 August 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

This will mean that governments will have to intervene to ensure that sustainability is driven forward, according to a new report from the UK’s Sustainable Consumption Project.

In looking at the principles of a healthy and sustainable diet, the report calls for a broadening of economic thinking so that the value of services to ecosystems are included and the costs of environmental damage, the cost of ill heath and poor educational attainment because of poor nutrition are also taken into consideration.

The project group also said that the cost of food waste also has to be considered.

“There is a need for effective leadership in, and ownership of, sustainable food consumption and production activity and for a robust governance framework,” the report says.

The project group said there needs to be trade-offs between the different aspects of sustainability.

Among the key principles for healthy and sustainable eating are:

  • Eat a varied balanced diet to maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Eat more plant based foods, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Value your food. Ask about where it comes from and how it is produced. Don’t waste it.
  • Moderate your meat consumption, and enjoy more peas, beans, nuts, and other sources of protein.
  • Choose fish sourced from sustainable stocks. Seasonality and capture methods are important here too.

As part of the examination of eating habits in the UK and how those eating habits can be influenced, the group suggested that immediate action can be taken to get consumers to eat more domestically produced fruit and vegetables and also that a brand should be created around the sustainability of British farming and food.

However, the project said that market forces alone will not be able to deliver the scale or pace of change that is needed and there are also concerns over support for research and development, because the financial returns might not be completely attractive.

“British food and farming has a good story to tell in terms of sustainable intensification (producing more from less and with less environmental impact) but this needs to be better articulated and communicated in ways which resonate with consumer concerns,” the report says.

“This suggests the need for new mechanisms, both to integrate and improve on existing developments and to provide a safe space for future collaboration, and for a clear strategic framework setting a strong direction of travel for all to follow. “

The group has called for the government to take a stronger role in steering the sector towards a sustainable future in both consumption and production.

Sand it has called for the principles of a healthy sustainable diet to be circulated for peer review to experts in the field of nutrition and sustainability so that they can for the basis for new policies.

“Government has a key role to play on sustainable food issues, providing leadership, reinforcing a sense of urgency, indicating priority areas for action and enabling others to deliver much needed action,” the report says.

“The need for business, government and civil society to take concerted action is urgent, given the scale of the challenges, and so a compelling vision must be accompanied by mechanisms for taking actions forward.

“Synergies between health and environmental sustainability are potentially strong but the synergy was much less obvious between health/environmental goals on the one hand, and economic objectives on the other, if a narrow definition of economic development is used. We recommend a broadening of economic thinking to capture the value of ecosystems services, and conversely the costs of environmental damage, the costs to society of ill health and loss of educational attainment due to poor nutrition; and the costs (to individuals, to business and to local authorities) of food waste.”

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