A Sustainable Food System Through Innovations

  • Approximately one half of the global population lives at sub-optimal nutritional levels
  • The most sustainable dairy and protein alternatives are now on the market
  • One startup is doubling the shelf life of fruits and vegetables
  • Vertical farms next door to grocery stores eliminate greenhouse gas emissions associated with overseas transportation
  • How the blockchain is fixing the food system

It is time to urgently focus our attention on creating a sustainable food system. Over the next few decades the global population is expected to reach 10 billion. Alarmingly, global food production is prepared to increase by an estimated 70% in that same time. The ongoing climate crisis is accelerating the need for new innovations that optimize our worlds resources. We need solutions for a sustainable food system now more than ever.

Venture capital has been slowly trickling into the industry supporting trailblazers re-thinking the way the food system works and operates. Cleantech companies creating new breakthrough solutions are increasing the distribution of food and reducing our impact on the environment by simply wasting less resources.

The current food system is embarrassingly inefficient, wasting one third of our total produce

A 2018 study from the World Economic Forum identified key technological opportunities to reduce water usage, greenhouse gas emissions and food waste. In addition to this, these technologies increase productivity and create more highly efficient pipelines in the agriculture system. The report startlingly states that there is enough food produced daily to feed the entire global population, yet nearly 1 billion people are chronically undernourished. One half of the entire population lives at sub-optimal nutrition levels. The most disturbing fact is that 1/3 of food produced is wasted, contributing 8% to global greenhouse gas emissions.

That is more than every single nations total emissions aside from China and the United States of America.

Imagine having the correct amount of money to pay your monthly bills, but burning one third of the cash while also damaging your property. Completely unsustainable and counter productive… definitely not a sign of an intelligent bunch.

Luckily, from alternative proteins to the blockchain, there are a number of sectors within the clean tech food system that are developing solutions to achieve a more ethical and sustainable planet.

Alternative proteins are revolutionizing the food system

One of the most popular and fastest growing areas of innovation in the sustainable food system is alternative proteins such as plant based protein. The current food chain is unsustainable and estimates suggest that replacing only 10-15% of our global animal protein consumption by 2030 with alternative proteins could result in a fresh water reduction of 225-400 billion cubic meters. Up to 400 million less hectares of land would be used to save 5-8% more greenhouse gas emissions. That amount of land would cover more than all of Canada’s forests combined, and if turned into forestry, that would increase the worlds total forestry 10% with just that small reduction in animal protein.

Already we have seen major successes in the alternative protein market with brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat leading the way. Notable early investors in the industry include Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio. Beyond Meat had an unexpectedly successful IPO earlier in 2019 that has seen the stock price more than double, making a bid for the most successful tech IPO of the year.

Ripple foods innovated for a more sustainable dairy food system

Creating 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than dairy milk, and 83% less than almond milk, Ripple Foods has developed a truly sustainable alternative. The incredible environmental benefits of their Ripple pea protein products compared to almond and dairy milk has them flying off the shelves. The product line is innovative yet extensive and based on the buzz around the brand it’s clear they are poised for explosive growth moving forward. Alternative dairy products are among the first foods that people try when switching to a more environmentally friendly diet. This company has captivated a large part of that audience and introduced consumers to the world of alternative proteins. (Protein shakes and flagship Ripple Milk can be ordered here.)

Insects may be the key to natural sustainable protein sources

Protix is an industry leading Dutch company that specializes in insect protein. Several insect species are raised and harvested for ethically sourced nutritional feed for livestock like poultry or salmon.  In comparison to other raised sources of protein, farming insects produces a tiny carbon footprint fit for a cricket. Today, livestock occupies 25% of earths ice free land. Reducing this number by only a few percent would equate to massive spaces freed up for better use.

AI and machine learning solutions for sustainability

There is an estimated opportunity for big data and advanced analytics for insurance to generate $70 billion of income. A creative business offering a different solution to the current food waste problem is ImpactVision. They’ve developed machine learning technologies to improve food inspection and quality control.

Using proprietary software and third-party scanners they check foods for imperfections and unique characteristics. These include things such as the freshness of a fish, bruised bananas, or the detection of foreign objects. This kind of food safety technology could allow farmers to increase production by up to 150 million tonnes.

ImpactVisions future for sustainable agriculture

ImpactVision is working on future technologies in hyperspectral imaging to give users the ability to scan produce in the supermarket with their smartphones. Customers would receive immediate feedback data such as how many days until an avocado is ripe for eating. This feature when fully developed could be revolutionary for the average consumer. Combining this with features from Google Assistant you may one day be able to plan weekly meals right down to the very last veggie.

Verigo

Another brand revolutionizing the fresh food industry is Verigo, which tackles food waste and increases food safety. They offer monitoring hardware that tracks product life, temperature and humidity of food before sending the information to the cloud. Customers can then view product status in real-time via a mobile app ensuring quality and offering high traceability and transparency. Food that was stored improperly, for example, could then be easily avoided. Verigo was recently purchased by AgroFresh (NASDAQ:AGFS) to bolster the brands suite of services focused on reducing waste both pre and post harvest. There is potential to save 35 million tonnes of food using IoT devices for real-time supply chain traceability and transparency.


Blockchain innovations could avoid an estimated 30 million tonnes of food waste

There are 30 million tonnes of food waste that could potentially be avoid with the aid of developing blockchain technologies. A pilot study launched in 2016 between IBM and Walmart demonstrated the benefits of using blockchain enabled technologies as a solution for higher traceability and transparency in the food industry. The results were exceptional. Information that would have usually taken an entire week using previous communication methods was sent in only 2.2 seconds. This allows for a big boost in detecting contaminated foods and applying selective recalls. To reduce food-borne illnesses and ultimately waste of leafy-green produce Walmart will more broadly implement the IBM blockchain technology. Nestle, Kroger, and Unilever are other major brands joining Walmart in using the tech in their supply chains and food systems.

A natural edible barrier extending the life of produce

One California startup founded by James Roger, Apeel Sciences, is fighting to fix the food system by increasing the life span of fruits and vegetable by more than double. A thin edible barrier derived from seeds and vegetables designed to create a ‘secondary’ peel that keeps moisture in and oxygen out. Apeel Avocados are currently available in Krogers, the largest grocery chain in America.

Vertical farms use almost none of our precious fresh water

Offline, urban expansion is estimated to triple in size over the next decade bringing a whole new wave of future problems as well as opportunities for our communities. The current agriculture industry uses 70-90% of our fresh water supply. This math becomes troublesome when we remember the projected population boom will result in 70% more food output. Vertical farms may offer the solution. Often built in buildings sprawling not out like a typical field, but sprouting up as if you were growing indoor giant bean stocks. 

Square Roots

Kimbal Musk is taking a somewhat minimalist approach to this method of farming with his Brooklynn incubator program Square Roots. The solution provided is to offer space inside a repurposed Brooklyn warehouse for entrepreneurs to start personal farm ventures within stacked, standard sized shipping containers. 

Vertical farms can provide an economical alternative to farming for some produce such as leafy greens, fruits and vegetables. An advantage of this system is they use very little water and typically no soil is necessary. Promising benefits of growing food in densely populated cities includes immediate access to millions with minimal shipping distances. Some types of produce may instead be grown at home, instead of overseas and thousands of miles away. The high energy used to support lights and equipment is one major drawback though. Solar and wind solutions must often accompany these farms, currently creating some barriers when repurposing current city buildings. If getting renewable power is not an issue, these city dwelling farms can be extremely efficient at utilizing space/resources. 

A sustainable farm between you and your local grocery store

It wouldn’t be unrealistic to assume some Walmart’s and Whole Food’s operating in major cities will grow some of their own produce. Bringing supply closer to stores could potentially relieve thousands of miles some fruits and vegetables travel to hit the shelves?  A short drone delivery trip from Googles Wing drone delivery startup?

The health tech industry has seen an extra $100 billion dollars invested in 18x more startups over the past 9 years than clean tech companies focused on developing a sustainable food system. That gap is closing and the ethical companies disrupting the food system in the future will be found right here! Join the Millennial Online community for weekly updates on sustainable developments creating a better future for the next generation.

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