Eat within planetary boundaries

Our goal at Evocco is help people to eat within planetary boundaries. This blog post

What are planetary boundaries?

The planetary boundaries are the safe operating limits for earth. There are nine boundaries, each representing a different planetary system; land use change, ocean acidification, climate change, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, stratospheric ozone, fresh water usage, biodiversity loss, air pollution and chemical pollution. Should we cross any of these boundaries, that particular system is in danger of changing irreversibly with harmful knock on effects for life on earth. For Evocco, we’re only using the Climate Change planetary boundary for now.

How are planetary boundaries being used in the Evocco app?

Trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle is like following multiple conflicting sets of directions without knowing the destination you’re trying to reach. While at every turn somebody is telling us we need to reduce our climate impact, few tell us what the sustainable lifestyle we need to live actually looks like. Evocco started with a simple philosophy; you can’t change what you can’t measure. So, we built an app to help people track the climate impact of their food shopping. To go a step further, we included the planetary boundary for climate change as the goal that we are all tracking our impact towards. If a diet is truly sustainable, it must not cause more emissions than the safety of planetary boundaries allows. To eat within planetary boundaries, we set a target in the app for users to keep their emissions from food below 65kg of CO2e per month.

How did you come up with the monthly target of 65kg of CO2e from food?

The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 is the most important plan for addressing the climate crisis that we have. It outlines that to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate breakdown, we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. For a strong chance of achieving this, we must halve global CO2 emissions by the year 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. This leaves us with a small remaining carbon budget for safety. The budget can be broken down by industry, but for Evocco we found breaking it down from a consumer lifestyle perspective the most useful. Here, we used research by Michael Lettenmeier at Aalto University that looks at a sample of lifestyles from across the globe. The 1.5 Degree Lifestyles report examines emissions from nutrition, housing, mobility and other domains, encompassing consumer goods, leisure and services. It finds that to keep emissions from nutrition in line with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a reduction of greater than 47% in emissions by 2030 and at least 75% by 2050 is needed in developed nations. This means that by 2030 each individual needs to have a carbon footprint from food of less than 800kg a year. We rounded it down a little to make the target 65kg of CO2 from food each month to stay within the climate change planetary boundary for food.

What should I do when I miss the target and exceed the planetary boundaries?

To start, a 65kg CO2e target for nutrition each month will be a tough task for most of us. At Evocco, the best way we’ve found to eat within the boundaries is to first make the small and easy changes to what we eat. The single most effective change is to increase the share of plant-based products in your basket and reduce the amount of meat and dairy products. This comes easier to some than others, and motivation can go up and down for all kinds of reasons. Rather than feeling bad if you blast outside the boundaries, the best thing to do is to offset to get back inside them. Offsetting, the practice of using nature or technology to capture emissions already in the atmosphere, can be useful in this case. While the most important thing is to reduce emissions at the source, you can plant native woodland with Evocco to get back within the boundaries when you overshoot. It’s more important to keep momentum towards a sustainable diet than to worry about your emissions being higher than you’d hoped.

What about the other factors that affect sustainability in the food supply chain?

Sustainability in the food system covers a variety of different factors from water scarcity to biodiversity loss. To begin with, we’ve chosen to focus on greenhouse gas emissions alone. At a later stage, we intend to build in the other boundaries too.

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