A regular series from Goodman Property examining environmental sustainability and how New Zealand business is working to get us there.
Today: Food and sustainability. We ask where food comes from, how it was made or grown and what is its impact on the environment.
The problem: Up to 49 per cent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from farming. But food wastage is also a major emissions contributor. The expert: Michal Garvey and Professor Hugh Campbell. While studying web development in Sweden, Garvey came across apps designed to reduce food waste in hospitality. Back in Aotearoa, she developed her own version called Foodprint. In the two years since, 40,000 customers have signed and Garvy says 50,000kg of carbon dioxide emissions have been saved. Hugh Campbell is a professor of sociology at Otago University specialising in food, agriculture and sustainability. He says there is too much animal product in our diets and that for our own and the planet's health we should be eating more plant-based foods.
'Shocking stats' revealed as NZ aims for a target of zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- When uneaten food decomposes without oxygen it produces methane, a greenhouse gas. This process is thought to be the cause of 10 per cent of emissions. Campbell says New Zealand has a shocking amount of food wastage and it is not uncommon for up to 75 per cent of some foods to be thrown out.
- Emissions from agriculture, nitrogen run-off from farms and soil degradation are also among a range of sustainability issues the country is dealing with.
- While progress is being made, Campbell says the decrease in emissions from beef, dairy and sheep farming is only about 1 per cent a year.
Michal Garvey believes greenhouse gas emissions caused by food waste is a problem New Zealand shouldn't really have.
"We throw away about a third of the food that is produced for human consumption," she says. "It accounts for up to 10 per cent of emissions. It is a massive problem; it is also a waste of resources.
"When you have six to eight per cent of the (world) population experiencing food insecurity, yet we're throwing away so much food, there are obviously social problems with it as well. It's a huge and complex issue."
So, Garvey is doing something about it. She has built an app called Foodprint where surplus or imperfect food in restaurants, cafes and supermarkets can be bought at a discount to minimise the amount being wasted.
She says in New Zealand about 50,000 tonnes a year is thrown out across those sectors and estimates the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide saved since Foodprint launched two years ago is just over 50,000kg.
"All kinds of food can be found on Foodprint," she says. "You can get anything from a whole cake to a salad, sandwich, sushi – anything you can buy at your local café. I focus on the hospitality industry because for them putting food in the bin is throwing away money.
"When you think about the climate crisis or the contribution of food waste specifically, sometimes it can be quite hard to know how to act. One of the things I really love the most about it (the app) is that we provide a really simple way for people to be able to rescue food and reduce the impact on the planet."
Garvey says the app is able to measure the amount of carbon saved by each item. "When eateries are listing on the app they put in an approximate weight and we have a calculation widely accepted in New Zealand that can tell you how much equivalent gas is saved. We track that for the customers and do the same for the eateries."
Garvey says discounts start from 30 per cent and Foodprint retains a percentage of each item sold. Although not yet profitable she says the app has just hit 40,000 registered customers and believes they will be in profit in the near future.
Campbell agrees New Zealand wastes "an astonishing" amount of food. "I've been teaching a food course at university for over 25 years and one of the things I would do in class is say 'how much food do you think you're wasting?'
"We generally come out at about five to 10 per cent," he says. "Then people began doing more comprehensive research and realised it's 35 per cent. In some products like pre-bagged salad mix or bread, it's up to 75 per cent in some households. These stats are really shocking".
He says the one thing people could do as consumers is to get their heads around how much we waste food: "It is the single easiest area where we can make satisfying interventions that are good for our wallets and good for the planet."
So, how can Kiwis eat differently to benefit the planet? "Try to get off processed foods and towards more basic fresh foods - and mainly plants," he says.
Campbell believes the New Zealand food industry is in a way better space to engage in sustainability than it was 25 years ago and says, for example, there isn't a single food export sector that hasn't moved in the direction of making sustainability a key selling factor.
He also sees progress being made in farming and believes New Zealand is slowly moving to the point where agriculture has negotiated its way into the emissions trading scheme.
"So the arrow is shifting from things simply getting worse to things potentially getting better – and that's a huge shift," Campbell says.
Despite this he says there are still big challenges. Farming contributes 49 per cent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions and even at the current rate of innovation emissions from beef, dairy and sheep farming is decreasing about 1 per cent a year.
"Significant change, particularly in the dairy sector, has been unthinkable for many of its participants and unthinkable politically," he says. "Simply addressing carbon is not enough, we're (also) in a very perilous moment for methane (which is produced by cows). They've got to go for the low-hanging fruit and, in a world sense, methane is a very low-hanging fruit, it's a really bad greenhouse gas."
He says nitrous oxide is also a big concern. "New Zealand went on a real binge on nitrogenous fertilisers and we are still on that binge. They are a contributor to greenhouse gases."
Campbell believes bringing back wetlands is important because they are water sponges and filters and are vital for water quality or holding water during flooding and rain events.
"New Zealand is the world champion of wetland draining. We've drained well over 90 per cent of the wetlands that were here in 1840, so losing them has made us much more vulnerable as a production landscape."
Campbell believes the government's target to achieve a net zero reduction in emissions by 2050 will be very challenging "because we didn't start doing this 20 years ago.
"If we'd grasped then that we had to start making small incremental changes then we'd be in much better shape now. As a result we're facing much bigger changes and the targets we have to meet feel a bit more of a shock."
Footprint: Business Sustainability is a new podcast series from Newstalk ZB and Goodman Property. Episode 6: Food