Transforming Global Food Systems

In March 2019, ProArch launched a company-wide initiative to identify opportunities to leverage our deep data and product engineering capabilities to help reduce humanity’s impact on the environment.

We held sessions to identify environmentally charged use cases and to find gaps in the market where we could have a positive impact. We also looked at the great work being done by Microsoft AI for Earth, which awards grants to projects that use artificial intelligence to address areas that are vital for building a sustainable future.

The research

During these sessions, we discovered an overwhelming body of scientific evidence showing how our current food systems are inefficient and unsustainable. The social and environmental costs of food production run into trillions of dollars and are putting millions of people at risk. For example, half of all human greenhouse gas emissions come from meat, dairy and egg farming. Only by fundamentally changing our local and global food systems can we avoid human and planetary collapse. We need to act fast.

The vital piece of the puzzle was a four-year academic study, which revealed a huge variance between different methods of producing the same foodstuffs. It found products that look, taste and even cost the same on the shelf have very different environmental impacts. For example, beef cattle being raised on deforested land results in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture.

The problem is that we have no current way of tracking these impacts. This means today’s consumers are unable to make informed environmental decisions about the food they’re eating.

Studies show 80% of consumers are keen for supermarkets to do more to offer food that is sourced responsibly and 30% are willing to pay more for it. Furthermore, 60% of consumers are confused about which foods count as ‘sustainable’ following a decade of misleading labelling, e.g. free-range, grass-fed, organic, etc.

Thought Labs

Inspired by this research, we held several ProArch Thought Labs in London. We invited 50 consumers and ran a series of trials to understand how highlighting environmental impact changes buying behaviour for food products.

Based on this research, we believe that by labelling products with an environmental impact score, consumers will become more aware of the environmental impact of their food purchases. Greater awareness will drive increased demand for low-impact products. This shift in demand will turn low environmental impact into a new competitive advantage, triggering a chain of environmental accountability up the supply chain to meet the new demand.

The solution

We decided to test this hypothesis by building a platform MVP that allows food producers to track and label products with their environmental impact. In the same way the traffic light system has driven demand for healthier options, an accurate environmental impact score ought to drive demand for lower impact produce.

We also knew that it was important that any platform we created helped farmers, producers and retailers to respond to consumer demand. By tracking and measuring environmental impact and providing benchmark insights, opportunities to improve sustainable production can be identified at each stage along the supply chain.

Using ProArch’s Rapid Reasoning methodology for data sciences and working with acclaimed environmental scientists, we leveraged a huge dataset of farms and their produce, representing 90% of all food that is eaten. We used this dataset to assess the impact of these foods on:

– land use
– climate change emissions
– freshwater use
– water pollution

Once the underlying data science for the platform was agreed upon, we invited players from across the supply chain to engage in our pilot. We worked with farmers, producers and retailers to assess their data landscape and IT systems, conduct gap analyses and architect solutions for an integrated, full supply chain data model.

Next, we deployed ProArch’s Dataware across the supply chain. In a matter of weeks, Dataware enabled us to ingest, clean and structure disparate data sources from across the supply chain – verified against governance, security and compliance requirements.

Innovating on top of Dataware, we have built the Environmental Transparency Platform (ETP).

ETP is a cloud-based, data-driven solution for tracking the environmental impact of food ‘from farm to fork’. The ETP tracks and measures the actual environmental impact of one product compared to another. Marrying data science with an integrated supply chain data platform, we can generate environmental impact insights for product labelling. This has the potential to change the way we make food purchasing decisions.

Get involved

Needless to say, we’re excited by the environmental and commercial implications of ETP. We are moving into the second phase of the program which intends to expand the pilot programme to more complex supply chains.

To support this expansion, we are raising funding and agreeing to partnerships with food producers. If you want to help consumers choose more environmentally friendly food, then please get in touch.

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