Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Tina Casey headshot

$90M Grant for Sustainable Food Will Link Nonprofits and Private Sector


One of the world's largest nonprofit conservation funders just pumped $90 million into a new sustainable supply chain initiative, kicking off a collaborative effort that could potentially result in a major shift in global food production. The new initiative, backed by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, will focus specifically on "decoupling" food production from an unsustainable track in the seafood, cattle and soy sectors.

The sustainable food supply problem

In the early 2000s, the United Nations identified a "rising crisis" in global food supply. The Moore Foundation effort dovetails with the U.N., with a particular focus on an increasing demand for diets rich in protein, sugars and oils as the world's population grows.

The unsustainability of the current food production pathway is clearly evident if you look at the numbers compiled by the Moore Foundation:

  • Agriculture now covers nearly 40 percent of the world’s ice-free land, uses 70 to 90 percent of all extracted freshwater, and comprises nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Commercial agriculture causes half of all global forest loss.

  • With 80 million tons of global fishery landings in 2012, overexploitation remains common in global fisheries.

  • Global aquaculture has more than doubled since the mid-1990s and that brings with it ecological consequences.

Sustainable food supply solutions

Clearly, there is no easy fix, as the foundation is quick to explain:
"Transforming practices in these markets will require an unprecedented degree of cross-sector collaboration among nonprofits, business, governments and other stakeholders."

However, the Moore Foundation team believes there is an effective way to start turning things around. One aim of the foundation's new sustainable food supply effort is to create a strong platform for collaboration that enables commercial food producers to set goals and coordinate their efforts. The other part involves narrowing the main thrust of the effort to focus on major food global supply chains such as beef, soy, tuna, shrimp, and other "top traded commodities."

Beef has been a sustainability target for years, as has seafood production, but the inclusion of soy on that list seems a little surprising. However, the global "soy footprint" is a matter of concern for deforestation and other impacts that are typically associated with beef and other high-protein food production systems.

The new effort will support three Moore initiatives called Forests and Agriculture Markets, Conservation and Financial Markets, and Oceans and Seafood Markets.

The collaborators include Ceres, FishWise, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, National Wildlife Federation, New Venture Fund, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the Nature Conservancy, World Business Council for Sustainable Development and World Wildlife Fund.

The grant money will leverage the areas of expertise for each collaborator to accelerate the pace of changes that are already under way.

One area of focus involves scaling up more efficient ways to produce beef and soy without massive deforestation, particularly in key areas such as the Cerrado and Chaco regions of the Amazon. Funding will also go to improve both aquaculture and natural fishing practices.

From the finance end, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development will partner with Moore and the World Wildlife Fund to enlist "mainstream financial markets" in the effort to nudge commercial food production in the right direction, partly by advocating for disclosure of the impacts of unsustainable practices.

Can it work?

If that all looks like a tough sell, consider that until just a few years ago the trajectory of global energy growth was heading almost exclusively in the direction of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Now it appears that wind and solar are beating both of those sectors on cost in addition to sustainability.

In the U.S., for example, the business sector is practically falling over itself to purchase clean power at a record-setting pace, thanks in part to the Business Renewables Center of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

A similar dynamic could come into play for food production, as sustainable solutions begin to yield bottom-line results for major commercial producers and their customers.

Image (screenshot): via Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

Read more stories by Tina Casey

More stories from Energy & Environment