Sustainability focus shifts from future goals to real-world changes

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)​​, ​the University of Manchester released a feature to present new findings on how the global food sector can engage in effective sustainability transitions. Scientists from the UK’s Manchester University and the German Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) collaborated with Harvard researchers to guest-edit the special issue. 

In the University of Manchester’s sustainability transitions issue, researchers pinpointed food as one of its key industries to explore. “The food system is implicated in many sustainability problems including climate change, biodiversity loss, water pollution, air pollution, and obesity,” ​Professor Frank Geels, Professor of System Innovation, IMP Innovation, Strategy and Sustainability at Alliance Manchester Business School and Co-Director of the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester, told FoodNavigator.

Rather than applying a future lens to meeting environmental objectives, the researchers found sustainable transitions to real-world change processes are a better focus area, helping to propel the food industry to meet global climate needs.

Radical technical innovations

“An important finding is that there are many radical innovations, which deviate in one or more dimensions from the existing regime and hold significant sustainability potential,” ​Geels said, detailing its sustainable transitions’ main food sector findings.

Permaculture agroecology, artificial meat, plant-based milk and manure digestion (biogas) are among several radical technical innovations in the food industry that promote sustainability, the researchers identified. Grassroots organisations and social activities such as alternative food networks, less-meat initiatives, veganism and urban farming can support these agri-food areas.