The sustainability / health debate matures? (update 6): Negative social impacts of palm oil in view by key NGOs - a call for data on social degradation; Halal standards also shows prevalence of multiple standards and customers paying for the higher costs; healthy food fight - healthier products and purer ingredients; US NBER economists find obesity linked to cheap food retailers - cheap processed and prepared foods is a feature.

Had an interesting chat with a long-time friend this morning over our morning walk. Is there going to be a secular change in trend that has so far seen a meteoric rise of the global consumer brands? In particular, the corporate results of a fast-food chain has done less well in light of health concerns and rise of more healthy competitors. We wondered about other companies - those selling fizzy beverages and junk foods as sugar, salt, oil and additives are increasingly targeted for concern. So, we browsed the Guardian website's sustainability pages to take a gander for themes. It was interesting to find a few countervailing items - notably the 2015 recommendations of The Observer's columnist on green / sustainable living (basically anti-global brands and long supply-chains) alongside several (more abundant?) rather corporate sustainability pieces (how corporates are teaming up on sustainability issues; how corporates can target human emotions in marketing their sustainability credentials, how a certification organization is accused of going too corporate; and about an NGO* stunt for the recent Lima climate talks says "Time for change").
* Some key international NGOs are working more on production changes than consumer changes; and some now work closely with corporates on certification or its like.

Are the voices against consumerism and global supply-chains in the international media getting a bit more prominent nowadays, or are we mistaken? A content analysis of this would help us to appreciate how it's trending (anyone seen anything in the public space on this?)... And we picked up earlier an article in Slate by Ruth DeFries - it is one of the more nuanced we've read on sustainability and equitable issues - it is essentially anti junk food and promotes "real food".

It's hard to imagine how the cheap and big global food supply chains and convenience foods and rise of middle income populations in emerging countries is not going to keep things rolling and growing..... but keep an eye on the maturing debate on sustainability as it talks more of / to consumers.


18 March 2015: Negative social impacts of palm oil in view by key NGOs - a call for data on social degradation

Activists: Indonesia’s Palm Oil Industry Needs a Makeover- Observers say a highly unsustainable business model is wreaking havoc on the environment and indigenous people By Amantha Perera on 02:15 pm Mar 17, 2015; ... But when locals try to take a stand for their rights, such campaigns result in the alienation of whole communities or, worse, the criminalization of their activities.... In July 2014, a protester was shot dead by police in South Kalimantan while taking part in a protest against palm oil expansion. Another such killing was reported on Feb. 28 in Jambi, located on the east coast of the island of Sumatra. “The people who have lived off the land for generations become criminals because they want to preserve their way of life,” Setra laments.... She believes that as long as there is global demand for the oil without an accompanying international campaign to highlight the product’s impact on local people, companies are unlikely to change their mode of operation.... Others say the problem is a lack of data. Scott Poynton, founder of The Forest Trust (TFT), an international environmental NGO, tells IPS that there is inadequate information on the socio-economic impacts of oil operations.... He says the focus on deforestation — in Indonesia and elsewhere — is a result of the tireless work of NGOs dedicated to the issue, combined with “easy-to-use tools like the World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch,”  a mapping system that allow people to quickly and cheaply identify deforestation.... He says similar resources must be made available to those like Setra — grassroots leaders on the ground, who are able to monitor and report on social degradation caused by the palm oil sector.... According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations.
Statistics like these suggest that nothing short of sweeping changes will be required to put indigenous people like Setra at the center of the debate, and build a sustainable future for palm oil production. - Inter Press Service...

14 March 2015: Halal standards also shows prevalence of multiple standards and customers paying for the higher costs

No benefit from single Halal standard, says Brazil poultry body 10-Mar-2015; No cost advantage.. He dismissed the idea that a single standard might allow poultry producers to cut costs, saying that producers simply passed on costs to their customers: "It's not a question of easy or not easy, or more costly or less costly - we just say, if you want us to do this, we will do it. If you want us to improve the Halal controls, have two supervisors instead of one, we will do it, and it will cost you."...

11 February 2015: Healthy food fight - healthier products and purer ingredients

Healthy Food Fight: Kids, Allergies and Big Business  - Food -  Jan 30, 2015  
The Allergy Kids Foundation, and author of “The Unhealthy Truth,” discusses the fight to get food companies to produce healthier products and why overseas fare is made with purer ingredients...

29 January 2015: US NBER economists find obesity linked to cheap food retailers (trigger of self-control problems), rising cigarette prices, more restaurants, fewer blue-collar jobs but fitness centers and higher gas prices (it's actually falling in recent months!) might help. Again, cheap processed and prepared foods is a feature.

The Economy Is Making You Fat - Bloomberg Business; New research has connected food costs and the retail mix to the surge in U.S. obesity rates by Jeanna Smialek 3:32 PM WET January 28, 2015;
The No. 1 reason we've gained weight? Wal-Mart. To be fair, that's a massive oversimplification. People weighed more when the cost of calories decreased” that explained 36.5 percent of total BMI gains. The proliferation of supercenters and warehouse clubs was the biggest contributor to that trend, explaining 17.2 percent of weight gain.... "raising the possibility that cheap food from these retailers triggers self-control problems." Additional economic changes that make Americans pack on the pounds include rising cigarette prices, more restaurants, and fewer blue-collar jobs.
....There is Hope. And it lies in your local treadmill. Fitness-center expansion and increases in gas prices were shown to correlate with lower BMI's.....

4 January 2015: Sugar as the new tobacco... what next?

A related issue is the rising prominent talk of sugar and other ingredients in junk foods as the "new tobacco." This has benefited stevia, marketed as a natural high intensity sweetener - we bought our first stevia-sweetened cola in December 2014 (yes, in a KL supermarket - but on sale). Many soda makers have launched these such options.

Jamie Oliver: Sugar can destroy lives and should be taxed like tobacco  By  Ben Farmer 12:04PM GMT 03 Jan 2015; The campaigning television chef says sugar is "the next tobacco" and it should be taxed because of its health risks... Sugary foods risk causing a public health crisis similar to smoking and should be taxed in the same way as tobacco, Jamie Oliver has said.  The television chef said sugar was “definitely the next evil” and should be targeted because of the burden it was placing on the NHS. He said he agreed with France's decision to impose a tax on sugary drinks and believes Britain should follow.... A third of British children and two-thirds of British adults are classed as obese or overweight, while the number with diabetes has doubled in the past two decades. The two conditions are already estimated to cost Britain more than £5bn each year and that could rise tenfold by 2050.... Mr Oliver said: “I’m not passionate about taxing, but when you look at the pot of cash that isn’t getting any bigger, and if you think that 68 per cent of every case that goes through the NHS is diet-related, then yes, you need radical change.’....


3 January 2015: A strong anti-junk / real food piece and a case made for grass fed beef by a farmer

Hold the Cookies, Save the Climate; Everyone knows meat is bad for the environment. But so is an ingredient commonly found in junk food. By Ruth DeFries; This article is part of Future Tense, a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University. On Thursday, Jan. 15, Future Tense will hold an event in Washington, D.C., titled “How Will Human Ingenuity Handle a Warming Planet?” For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website; Imagine if eating packaged cookies and crackers were as socially unacceptable as smoking a cigarette. People would sneak to the balcony to tear open packages of Oreos. Travelers would slink into designated rooms to scarf down candy bars. “No junk food” signs would adorn the halls of public buildings.... Waistlines, nutrition, and health care costs would all by improved by a junk food–free world. So would the climate, the rain forests, and the dwindling populations of wild orangutans in Southeast Asia.... The benefits of eating less red meat have already permeated the consciousnesses of those seeking a climatically responsible lifestyle. Indeed, in the United States, people on average consume less red meat than they did a few decades ago, though likely more for health than climate concerns. The consumption of processed foods, with their high content of sugar and oils, has skyrocketed in the other direction. The trend has helped fuel the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and throughout the world. But its impact on climate gets far less attention than the energy-sucking effect of hamburgers and steaks.... With land in scarce supply and demand for food climbing, the planet cannot afford to grow food that makes people sick instead of healthy.... The protests against palm oil have raised awareness about the damage that may be wrought by the world’s voracious appetite for cheap fat. They also bring up many thorny questions about the right path to a more equitable world, that has economic opportunities for all, and won’t destroy the planet in the process. Do the environmental costs of palm oil from Southeast Asia outweigh the damage from industrial farming of soybeans in the prairies of the Midwest? Should those countries with remaining stocks of rich, lush rain forests be obliged to forgo the benefits of developing their agriculture? With the push toward certification of sustainably produced palm oil, how can the millions of poor oil palm farmers afford to go through the expensive process to get certified?.... These knotty questions have no obvious answers. But one fact is clear. Whether it’s squeezed from soybeans or from the fruits of palm trees, oil in processed food is a losing proposition. It’s bad for nutrition and it wastes much-needed land that could produce healthier food. The atmosphere accumulates greenhouse gases, and waistlines pile on fat. People in the street have little control over international climate negotiations and discussions between environmental groups and companies in closed rooms. But if reasonably priced options are available, people can control what they put in their grocery baskets and feed their families.... Let’s be practical. It’s unrealistic to expect most people to consider the climate as they rip open packages of crackers made with oil. The climate crisis will not be solved by selfless solutions that benefit faraway places and future generations. It could be alleviated by solutions that align with more immediate interests. Profit and reputation are obviously among those interests, hence the corporate attention to the bottom line in taking on their sustainable palm oil pledges. For the rest of us, benefits for our health can also be a plus for climate. It’s not just saying no to a burger or rib-eye. We have to say no to the processed foods that have negative ramifications for both climate and health. Vegetable oils ubiquitous in junk food can be avoided simply by eating real food. The climate will be a winner, and so will our diets.... uth DeFries is a professor at Columbia University and author of The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis, published by Basic Books.

Essay: Actually, Raising Beef Is Good for the Planet; Despite environmentalists’ worries, cattle don’t guzzle water or cause hunger—and can help fight climate change Grasslands for cattle safeguard soil, water and land.  By Nicolette Hahn Niman  Dec. 19, 2014 6:12 p.m. ET ; People who advocate eating less beef often argue that producing it hurts the environment. Cattle, we are told, have an outsize ecological footprint: They guzzle water, trample plants and soils, and consume precious grains that should be nourishing hungry humans. Lately, critics have blamed bovine burps, flatulence and even breath for climate change.... As a longtime vegetarian and environmental lawyer, I once bought into these claims. But now, after more than a decade of living and working in the business—my husband, Bill, founded Niman Ranch but left the company in 2007, and we now have a grass-fed beef company—I’ve come to the opposite view. It isn’t just that the alarm over the environmental effects of beef are overstated. It’s that raising beef cattle, especially on grass, is an environmental gain for the planet.....

3 January 2015: Browsing the Guardian website on sustainability - anti-consumerism recommendations and corporate sustainability pieces

How can I go green in 2015? I’m determined to lead a more eco-friendly life in 2015. What can I do at home? If you have an ethical dilemma, email Lucy at by Lucy Siegle
 Sunday 28 December 2014 06.00 GMT; Trends need not be fickle engines of pure consumerism. We have them in ethical living, too you know. 2015 is all about self-reliance. More dynamic than the downshifting trend (work fewer hours, move to the countryside, keep bees), self-reliance is about actively claiming ownership of our lives and wresting supply chains from global corporations. So from food to finance, watch out for local organisations which offer alternative ways of doing things and systems that are not reliant on the whims of big business or local government.... In 2015 there are no extra points for recycling, saving energy or using the bus, not the car – these are settled behaviours that you should be doing automatically. The kitchen and garden (or community garden or allotment), where we carry out transformative processes like composting, are at the heart of self-reliance. Take your lead from foodie trends that aim to localise parts of the food chain, wrestling them back from food corporations and their impactful supply chains.... One way to do this is by processing your own food. Get acquainted with archaic-sounding kitchen verbs: brewing, fermenting, brazing, curing.
Over the last decade I’ve watched – and occasionally tried to intervene – as clothes lovers become captive customers. Super-cheap fast fashion means disposability. Don’t buy for landfill. Fight back. DIY fashion needn’t mean knitting worthy jumpers, as Secrets of Sewing Lingerie (Kyle Books, £15.99) makes clear. The bourgeoning craft handmade movement is important for local economic relationships and capitalises on the ethical benefits of shorter supply chains.... So in 2015 avoid a monocultural existence where you devolve responsibility to a few corporate brands for your food, entertainment and technology. Instead look for the biodiversity of local organisations and alternative ways of living.....

Why rivals like PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Unilever and P&G are joining forces by Oliver Balch Thursday 23 October 2014 12.22 BST; Business competitors have realised that greater impact can be achieved by working in close alliance on big sustainability issues;

Why targeting 4 human emotions is key to marketing sustainability by David Hawksworth Monday 21 July 2014 16.59 BST;  By focusing on the correct human emotions, the message of sustainability could have a deeper impact... While brands have been remarkably successful at feeding universal human drives, such as the desire for adventure, power or status, sustainability has not been seeing the same success in its messaging. What sustainability needs to create the same impact is a similar level of insight into the best way to embrace the full range of human emotions. Because it's human emotion that's at the heart of what motivates us.... The latest thinking around behaviour change and sustainability as put forward by Common Cause, a think tank funded by Oxfam, Public Interest Research Centre, and WWF-UK, is that the key to encouraging sustainable living is to align it to core values. Its argument is that a less wasteful lifestyle will only be adopted if it fits closely with the identity and sense of self of the individual involved. However, the rub is that some of those values are painted as positive and conducive to a better life - often called inner-directed values, while others are portrayed as negative and undesirable, leading naturally to selfishness and greed - called outer-directed values.... Effective neuroscience identifies four basic human drives aligned to a handful of neurochemicals in the brain. These four drives each have their own useful role to play in promoting human survival and out of these have emerged the full range of human emotions:
  • Contentment - to minimise harm and probability of bodily destruction
  • Nurturance - to facilitate familial and social bonding
  • Seeking - to reward curiosity, survival abilities, achievement and excitement about achieving the desired goals e.g. food and stimulation
  • Assertiveness - to overcome restrictions on freedom of action
This insight presents a more balanced view of consumerism and how brands meet our basic needs - a new mother is not buying extra baby products because of an outer-directed motivation to demonstrate her status in the world, she is buying them because of her innate drive towards the nurturance of her child. Rather than trying to change us, brands have worked out what makes us tick. They successfully appeal to our full range of drives; our sense of freedom, home, playfulness, power or sensuality.
The Wayfinder tool demonstrates twelve strategies that show how any brand can use sustainability to build on its core story....  David Hawksworth is co-founder and creative director of Given London
The sustainable living hub is funded by Unilever. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.

Soil Association has disowned 'O word', say resigning trustees by Adam Vaughan, Monday 1 December 2014 15.53 GMT ; Organisation accused of losing its focus on organic food and farming and adopting a corporate mindset... The UK’s biggest organic lobbying group has disowned its philosophical roots, is failing to support homeopathy for animals and has developed a dull and insipid image, say four trustees who have resigned over the Soil Association’s future direction.... In a scathing letter the trustees say the 68-year old charity, which certifies four-fifths of organic produce and campaigns for organic farming, has abandoned its focus on organics in an attempt to reach a wider audience.... He said that the charity had been co-opted by the power structures of big farming and the supermarkets. “They [the directorate] do not understand the difference between dialogue and appeasement.”

Greenpeace apologises to people of Peru over Nazca lines stunt by Dan Collyns in Lima; Thursday 11 December 2014 00.53 GMT; Culture ministry says it will press charges against activists for damage to world heritage site as UN climate talks began in Lima... Greenpeace has apologised to the people of Peru after the government accused the environmentalists of damaging ancient earth markings in the country’s coastal desert by leaving footprints in the ground during a publicity stunt meant to send a message to the UN climate talks delegates in Lima....