Food Sustainability: Disrupting the Status Quo

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At HexaGroup, we’ve been helping energy clients navigate their challenges for decades. Of late, a transition toward more sustainable energy sources and better means of energy production has been on everyone’s minds. However, environmental sustainability is not an issue for the energy sector alone. Every industry is affected by it, including one you're likely interacting with every single day — the food industry.

Did you know that food production is responsible for the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as electricity production? That puts it at 25 percent of all emissions — a staggering figure. Food production also accounts for 70 percent of freshwater use and 30 percent of the globe’s overall energy consumption, according to the United Nations.

Keeping the world fed is a monumental task — one that comes with a significant environmental cost. Food production as it stands is on an untenable path. Here's why that is, and how new innovations could help usher in a new era of food sustainability.

Food Production is Inefficient

Food is one of the most essential consumption sectors in terms of its environmental impact. This is especially the case with traditional large-scale industrial farming, which is intrinsically inefficient because of the imbalance between the total energy required versus the energy produced.

For every 10.3 quads of the total energy used to produce food, only 1.4 quads of food energy is generated in return. Most food systems are inefficient and insufficient for meeting global demand, limiting our ability to achieve the UN's “Zero Hunger” and Sustainable Development Goals.

Massive Population Growth Equals More Demand

Urbanization, population growth and a rising global middle class have caused major changes in food consumption patterns. Fifty-five percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and that figure is expected to reach nearly 70 percent by 2050, according to the UN. This will require a near 70 percent increase in food production to feed 9.6 billion people by 2050.

Consequently, governments are concerned about food security and safety, reducing food waste, minimizing the environmental footprint of food and improving nutrition. On the other hand, food companies are concerned with shortages of crops and ingredients, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the health and environmental aspects of food, as well as how our entrenched food habits affect other species.

Innovations in Food Sustainability

All of the challenges above have prompted a surge in technology innovation. New food sustainability solutions have emerged to take on the status quo, such as farm automation and vertical farming, AI, 3D printing and blockchain, and alternative protein.

The traditional food industry is now experiencing disruption unparalleled in its history across the entire food chain — upstream (sourcing and production), midstream (logistics, processing, and wholesaling) and downstream (retail and consumption). For example, the global alternative protein domain — plant-based foods, cultivated meat (produced in a lab from stem cells of animals) or fermentation-based protein — is anticipated to reach a market valuation of $38.4 billion by 2025.

Supermarkets in most Western countries now sell vegan queso, “benevolent" (meatless) bacon, cashew milk mozzarella, and plant-based burgers. These products reflect a shift from traditional meat-and-milk centric diets, which present a well-entrenched social and cultural norm in most Western countries.

There's still a long way to go before food sustainability is a front-and-center topic for the everyday person, and before more sustainable methods are used to produce the majority of the world's food. But as evidenced by the growth of alternative protein, food sustainability is on an upward trajectory. We believe it's an important area to cover, and we'll be doing more of that soon.

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Topics: Sustainability