If “protecting the future” sounds like a nearly insurmountable challenge to you, then you understand the magnitude of the task at hand – and the need for every single one of us to do our part toward what must become our common objective. This harkens back to the vision displayed by Gro Harlem Brundtland, in 1987, when she chaired the UN report, “Our Common Future.” In the report, she writes, “This Commission believes that people can build a future that is more prosperous, more just, and more secure.” Laudable goals then, and just as laudable now – and within our reach – but not without planning, preparation, and engagement of many diverse actors.
There are many daunting statistics about the magnitude of the myriad global crises we face, and these are important to understand, but the world also continues to make significant progress toward solutions – solutions to protect our collective future. Many of these solutions involve the area of sustainable agriculture, across environmental, social, and economic elements – understandable when you consider that agriculture globally represents 70% of water use, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 40% of employment. What better way to prepare for our future than to tackle these challenges?
Governments increasingly work to create the policy frameworks to facilitate progress. And many go beyond this to establish leading programs. Take for example, the Irish Food Board’s (Bord Bia) “Origin Green,” a unique sustainability development program to internationally demonstrate the commitment of Irish food and drink producers to operating sustainably – in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation, water management, biodiversity, community initiatives and health and nutrition.
PepsiCo was honoured to participate in Bord Bia’s Our Food, Our Future symposium last year, amplifying the importance of protecting our future. Consider also the Food and Agriculture Business Principles being developed under the remit of the United Nations Global Compact. These FABPs aim to articulate a common understanding and agreement on the resources, ecosystem services and socio-economic impacts needed to build resilience into agricultural supply systems and the markets that they serve.
Academia continues to keep the world anchored in sound science, and even more so in ways to apply this science for on-the-ground impact to improve resilience. Take the collaboration between the University of Cambridge and PepsiCo UK which resulted in the development of “i-crop” technology, which is a way to conserve water in agriculture while reducing carbon impact. In initial trials across 46 of PepsiCo’s U.K. potato farms, i-crop has helped increase crop yields by 13% and reduced water usage by 8% . Consider also the Guardian’s own posting by Joyce Coffee from the University of Notre Dame, where she describes the value of the Global Adaptation Index, a powerful planning tool with which to assess the readiness and resilience of countries to the impacts of climate change.
Non-governmental organisations articulate the passion they have for their respective causes, and many leverage collaborative approaches over adversarial ones. One of the premier organisations leading the way in protecting our future is the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Their Vision 2050 and Action 2020 provide a roadmap of tangible solutions toward a world where nine billion people will live well within the resource limits of the planet.
Finally, the private sector brings business rigour, entrepreneurial innovation, sharing of best practices, and resources to help activate solutions. They also bring reach and potential scale through pre-competitive collaborations. For example, the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, is a business consortium of over 50 members who actively share the same view on sustainable agriculture as “the efficient production of safe, high quality agricultural products, in a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers, their employees and local communities, and safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species.”
So, yes, progress is being made, and innovative partnerships are forged every day to help protect our future. But, to end where we began, consider once more these words from Brundtland’s Our Common Future Report, and challenge yourself to interpret them in a modern, current context:
“Over the course of this century, the relationship between the human world and the planet that sustains it has undergone a profound change… but major, unintended changes are occurring in the atmosphere, in soils, in waters, among plants and animals. It deeply worries many people who are seeking ways to place those concerns on the political agendas. We have been careful to base our recommendations on the realities of present institutions, on what can and must be accomplished today. But to keep options open for future generations, the present generation must begin now, and begin together, nationally and internationally” – to protect our future.
Dan Bena is head of sustainable development at PepsiCo