The food industry is both facing and contributing to major climate challenges, putting immense pressure on leaders to adapt their food businesses for the future. Mike Barry, former Director of Sustainable Business at Marks & Spencer, who helped to develop, implement and evolve its ground-breaking sustainability programme Plan A, discusses the transformation needed to create a truly sustainable food system.
The food system is facing massive challenges right now. The situation in Ukraine is causing global supply chain issues, Indonesia has cut off its palm oil exports, and major brands such as Unilever are responding to the squeeze with rapidly rising prices.
Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have reported serious heat waves, South Africa has just had a year’s worth of rainfall in two days, and the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought since Live Aid.
“This has all happened since I put these slides together just three weeks ago,” says Mike, who cites former Prime Minister Harold MacMillan’s famous answer to the biggest challenge to leadership: “Events dear boy. Events.”
The best laid plans, Mike says, are always at risk of being derailed – and in a world where things are changing so rapidly, this makes it difficult to envision a meaningful transformation for the food industry.
But it’s a transformation that’s critically-needed. As Mike notes, we waste 2.5 billion tonnes of food every year around the world, and yet 750 million people are starving every day. Meanwhile, plastic is choking our oceans, and deforestation is continuing apace.
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