Foodservice Footprint Kate-Cawley-copy-scaled Comment. People over pledges: why connection is key Comment  news-email email-news

Comment. People over pledges: why connection is key

Healthy people need a healthy planet. Which is why transforming our food system is both essential and inevitable, says Kate Cawley.

Huge amounts of research, thought, and practice have gone into finding out how to transform for the better; so the food industry, including the whole team at Veris, knows what to do. There’s no excuse for inaction. 

Consumers are also desperate for change. 72% feel companies should be driving better social and environmental outcomes, while more than 70% of parents are in favour of new taxes on products that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

So why are we still not moving fast enough? I think it’s because we aren’t focusing on human connection.  

Evolution through action

Unsustainable food practices do not stem from one place. This isn’t a ‘business issue’, or a ‘political issue’, a ‘supply chain issue’, or a ‘consumer issue’. It’s a whole system issue. And when we frame things this way, we’re in the best position to make change. 

We can’t replace our food system altogether, we can evolve and transform it. And to transform it, we need action. The industry is currently stuck in the theoretical consensus that ‘collaboration is a good thing’. While this is an important start, we now need to move swiftly from the theoretical to the practical.

This means building communities where we have impact-focussed discussions, share concrete and effective solutions, and think collectively about ideas that we act on. 

The networks within businesses are also a powerful place to forge the kinds of connections we need.  

This is starting to happen through the disclosures businesses must make on emissions, climate risk, and human rights. To make them, employees across organisations pull together to identify and measure the human and environmental impacts of their business. 

However, mandatory requirements don’t demand the scale and speed of change that’s needed. So, while they will help establish invaluable internal connections, meeting these requirements alone will not future-proof your business. 

Board leaders must also recognise that creating sustainable change is not the job of a single sustainability lead. There is a deep skills gap across our businesses, and all employees need support in upskilling. This is just as critical for those who already have sustainability experience, as well as those who don’t. What you studied at business school five years ago does not equip you to make effective decisions in today’s world. 

It’s also crucial that we build an impactful infrastructure for future-ready skills. If government and private investors want to invest capital in a transition, they need to invest in upskilling, too; and they must recognise it’s part of the success equation.

Putting people first

Through all of this, we cannot forget our ‘why’. We’re not changing for the sake of change: we’re changing so that human beings can lead long and healthy lives. This is why we must create people-focussed agendas, spelling out how all our ideas will impact people for the better. When we keep our focus on the human, we’ll find solutions that really get to the heart of the issue.

The food system has vast, complex, and unique challenges. But these challenges present incredible opportunities to help solve the existential crisis we face. Failure is not an option. So, it’s high time we recognise how powerful we are and just how powerful the connections we make can be.  

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