A shared vision for a more sustainable food system: Why we need Courtauld 2025 now more than ever

Dr Marcus Gover, CEO, WRAP

If there is anything positive to come out of the struggles forced on us by the pandemic, it is the unprecedented opportunity to recalibrate our global food system so that it is more resilient, more fair, more friendly to the planet. And if ever there was a compelling case for why the Courtauld Commitment 2025 needs to exist it is right now - to help realise this ambition.

The facts about our global food system are undeniable:

  • It is inequitable - our current food system is failing to stave off hunger for hundreds of millions and fueling obesity elsewhere;
  • It is inefficient – a third of the food produced, worth nearly a trillion $US, is wasted every year; and
  • It is unsustainable – as the culprit for around 30% of the planet’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 70% of biodiversity loss and a polluter of our rivers and lakes, it is a major contributor to the environmental challenges we all face.

The urgency to fix our food system now was certainly evident at last week’s Courtauld 2025 Annual Summit. Despite the fact that many signatories and supporters to our flagship food and drink voluntary agreement have been in the eye of the storm of COVID-19 for many months now, I was astonished by the level of engagement, rich discussion and renewed sense of purpose. I would say that, even with all the challenges of having to move this year’s Summit online, it was one of the best, most productive Courtauld meetings yet.

We all recognised the need to reset the way our food system functions. But fixing it will require systemic, wholescale, root-to-branch change. It will require commitment, collaboration, and political will. In Courtauld 2025 we have a headstart – it’s a partnership model that works, and it’s a beacon to the world. The Champions 12.3 2020 Progress Report highlighted the UK as an exemplar for its achievement in being the first nation in the world to reach the halfway mark toward achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, and the contribution of Courtauld 2025 was held up as a key factor in this success. 

With 8 interactive sessions over 2 days, and over 50 external speakers including ministerial addresses from all four UK nations , there was much to discuss. But what struck me most at this year’s Courtauld 2025 Summit was the sheer breadth of work taking place, right across the food chain, and the passion and commitment of our signatories and supporters to create our shared vision of a sustainable future. Courtauld 2025 is a partnership model that’s reaping benefits right across the sector. To pick just a few examples:

Courtauld 2025 has convened a new Supply Chain GHG Working Group, demonstrating the importance of going beyond food waste to explore how we can drive down emissions across the food chain and lead the way in making the food system more environmentally friendly. It was heartening to see that this area of work was one of the most popular and well-attended sessions of this year’s Summit.

The Courtauld 2025 Water Ambition goes from strength to strength – again looking beyond food waste at another key environmental impact of food, with Courtauld 2025 signatories recognising the need to collaborate on water security in key catchment areas, both in the UK and overseas.

More and more Courtauld 2025 signatories and supporters are joining our citizen-facing food waste prevention campaigns, including Love Food Hate Waste, recognising the need for bigger and bolder messaging to build awareness of the impact of food on climate change.

There’s an equally exciting year ahead for Courtauld 2025, as we continue our work in high-impact sectors in 2021:

Launching the inaugural Food Waste Action Week in March, which aims to wake the nation up to the environmental and climate consequences of wasting food. I urge all food and drink organisations to get involved and help us shift the needle on our attitude to food waste.

Developing further the Guardians of Grub food waste reduction campaign for the hospitality and food service sector. We are acutely aware of how hard the pandemic has hit this sector but, with a range of new support materials on the refreshed Guardians of Grub website, as we emerge from lockdown there is an opportunity to build back better and help businesses deliver savings to their bottom line.

Continuing to push the frontiers of citizen behaviour change with our work with Courtauld 2025 partners to pilot new interventions.

Growing the global influence of the Courtauld model with new voluntary agreements internationally.

This means significantly picking up the pace if we are to reach our targets. Specifically, we need more collective action in water-stressed regions, and more collaboration to further decarbonise the food supply chain. We need more businesses committing to ‘Target, Measure, Act’ on food waste and for public reporting of food waste to become the norm. We need the Courtauld 2025 network to deploy its skill and resources to support citizens to stop wasting food. We need more Courtauld 2025 signatories to help amplify our messages. 

The need for Courtauld 2025 to exist and succeed has perhaps never been more important and relevant. The Annual Summit confirmed to me and I believe to all involved in Courtauld 2025, that our approach works and is delivering tangible results, driven by the passion and commitment of individuals and organisations from across the food chain. The pandemic has demonstrated the human potential of working collaboratively, guided by evidence and for a common good. And this is the essence of Courtauld 2025.

Together, we can build back better, for the good of the economy, the environment, and the communities we live in. The stakes have never been higher. Through Courtauld 2025 we are not only responding to the present but shaping the future of our planet.