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FoodCycle at the 2013 Sustainable Foods Summit

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By Laura Deller, FoodCycle Hub Programme Manager

When I first started volunteering with FoodCycle back in 2010, I had no idea that 3 years later I would be on stage in Amsterdam presenting FoodCycle’s vision at the 2013 European Sustainable Foods Summit! This was a great opportunity for FoodCycle and I was delighted to be visiting the beautiful Amsterdam to tell the FoodCycle story and hopefully inspire other organisations across Europe to consider how they can use their surplus for social good.

The message of the summit was that food lies at the heart of some of our greatest global challenges; obesity, diet-related ill-health, food poverty, food waste, climate change, biodiversity loss…the list goes on. But food also has a vital role in solving these problems – affecting every individual on a personal level, but equally affecting communities, economies and the environment through its supply chain and ingredients.

It was a fascinating two days with a great line-up of speakers; from organic and ethical food producers to marketing firms and sustainability experts. Tom Andrews from the Soil Association introduced us to the idea of Sustainable Foods Cities – a fantastic concept that brings towns and cities together to use sustainable food as a basis for positive social change. As you can tell, this is very in-line with FoodCycle so Tom’s presentation was a great start to the summit!

There were also some fascinating success stories from ethical food brands that have used their passion for sustainability to grow their business whilst raising awareness of how our food choices can affect the planet. Bio+, the biggest organic brand in the Netherlands, spoke of their innovative ‘edutainment’ buses that travel around to engage the public in the story of organic food, to create an understanding of what ‘organic’ means and show that by choosing certain products consumers can help to create a more sustainable world.

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Another interesting presentation came from Daabon, an organic agricultural company in Colombia. They spoke of their commitment to providing only reliable, long-term jobs with full employment benefits (e.g. healthcare) rather than seasonal or short-term roles. They also have various social initiatives to invest in the local communities, from a young entrepreneur program and leadership training – empowering local people to think beyond the agricultural jobs on their doorstep and consider other routes of employment – to employing whole new staff teams to make Daabon uniforms, rather than buying them from a supplier. A consistent message from many speakers was that organisations should recognise that communities are the foundation of a successful company; by respecting and supporting the community, both the local people and the company will thrive.

The summit then shifted focus to the challenges companies face when engaging consumers; PR and marketing firms Ogilvy and Ketchum gave fascinating insight to consumer habits, highlighting that consumer desire to buy ethical food products is often not converted into purchases. Ogilvy showcased some successful branding campaigns for ethical companies, and revealed shocking research that 81% of people believe that being ‘green’ is a feminine issue! Ketchum then described the long process required for ethical brands to change the behaviour of consumers, from creating an awareness of sustainability, to understanding the issues, to finally believing in its importance – this can be aided by honest and unfiltered discussion of the sustainability issues surrounding the product, and through effective use of social media.

There were other speakers that were equally thought-provoking – from Ben & Jerry’s and their commitment to buying only fairtrade ingredients where possible and paying farmers the highest price for their milk, to Kamut who are creating products from previously forgotten ancient grains, but there are too many to mention in this blog!

One of the recurring themes of the summit was the worrying thought that by 2050 the world population will have reached 9 billion. An inspiring presentation by plant-based food company Alpro put emphasis on the fact that only 12% of the world is suitable for agriculture – currently two thirds of this is used for animal pasture and the other third is dedicated to crops. Most of the world’s future population growth is predicted to occur in developing countries, and recent trends have shown that as populations become wealthier, they demand more meat-based products – this raises the question of how are we going to supply more meat, and more importantly how are we going to feed everyone?!

Volunteers cooking at our LSE Hub in Kings Cross, London. Here, they serve tasty meals to service users at the Holy Cross Centre Trust, working to reduce food poverty and social isolation among vulnerable groups.

Reducing food waste and making sure it reaches the people that need it is the first step… so FoodCycle are on the right track! But there are so many other people that need to help tackle this – one of the positive things I took from the summit was that all of the very different organisations that came from all over the world believed in the same thing; food is the key to a sustainable future. One thing that was clear from all of the speakers was that the companies had a genuine commitment to sustainability; it is embedded in the values and all-important culture of the organisation. On top of that, all of the presentations highlighted that environmental and social initiatives have led to increased profitability of their businesses – confirming sustainable business means good business! If we can get this message to every business, I think we are well on the way to changing the future! (who’s with me…?)

So all in all, a pretty inspiring couple of days! But the best thing; people from the audience were queuing up to tell me how inspiring they thought the FoodCycle story was and how much they enjoyed hearing about our work. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to let you all know how impressed people are with the work our volunteers are doing across the country, and to say thank you, well done, and don’t stop there! What can we achieve between now and 2050…?

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