Our world, our food system
Our world, our food system
A global transformation has begun
In 2020, Guelph-Wellington officially launched Our Food Future: an ambitious undertaking to build a circular food economy. Supported by $10 million in funding from Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, we set out to reimagine how our community produces, distributes, sells, and consumes food.
It’s important work locally. Both the County’s and the City’s strategic plans prioritize people and sustainability. By creating a more circular food system, we’re strengthening our community, ensuring greater access to good nutrition and taking action to address the climate crisis. This work has become even more relevant as our community recovers from the profound effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Transforming food systems is also important globally. In August 2020, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a landmark report warning that the world cannot avert a climate crisis unless we rapidly transform our food systems. Meanwhile, a recent EAT-Lancet Report concluded that feeding a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries will require transforming eating habits, improving food production, and reducing food waste.
Guelph-Wellington is on the forefront of this change. The innovations we’re creating and the lessons we’re learning here can inform and inspire change around the world and advance progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
But food is just the beginning. We believe embracing a circular approach more broadly is good for the planet and good for our communities.
That’s why we launched the Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad (COIL) in 2021. This network aims to create, prove, and scale transformative solutions in both the food and environment sectors, helping move Canada toward a more sustainable, circular economy.
We’re proud to see how businesses, local organizations, academic institutions, individuals, and municipal governments have come together to make this possible. Collectively, we’re making significant strides towards more sustainable and equitable systems and a resilient, forward-looking community.
Mayor Cam Guthrie, City of Guelph
Warden Kelly Linton, County of Wellington
The circularity movement
Circularity lies at the heart of Our Food Future and Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad. Our Food Future’s goal is to create a circular food system in Guelph-Wellington that eliminates waste by keeping as much energy, nutrients, and materials as possible cycling through the system — and generating value as a result. We’re rethinking everything from how we produce food to how we distribute, sell, and consume it.
COIL extends that thinking across southern Ontario and even further afield, focusing on the nexus of the food and environment sectors.
The current food system is based on a linear model that flows in one direction: production, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Because this approach fails to recover the nutrients in food by-products and waste, it’s expensive both financially and environmentally.
Circular food systems take a different approach. They seek to design out waste and pollution. They seek to improve production practices, value chains, and collaborative networks to keep nutrients cycling through the system. As a result, they reduce the need for virgin inputs and reduce the waste that must be disposed of. This allows the same area of farmland to feed more people, while curbing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the pressure on municipal landfills.
Circular food systems also go beyond food production and manufacturing. This approach challenges us to innovate and grow our food economy with equity and dignity, to question and address issues of food access, and to learn about and relate to our neighbours locally and globally through knowledge exchange and celebration.
A movement with worldwide momentum
It’s an urgently needed transformation. The global food sector accounts for a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also the biggest cause of biodiversity loss and the biggest user of water on the planet.
In the two and a half years since we launched Our Food Future, momentum around circular economy principles has accelerated. For example, Canada’s largest trading partners are making major investments into the circular economy, including China (US$468 billion by 2024) and the E.U. (€10 billion by 2023).
Major food corporations — including General Mills, McCain Foods, and Danone — have committed to creating more sustainable and circular supply chains, and in the recent federal election, we saw all three of Canada’s main national parties referencing the importance of a circular economy.
Through Our Food Future and COIL, Guelph-Wellington has positioned itself at the forefront of this global movement. Our efforts have been featured in reports at the World Economic Forum and in multiple panel discussions at the World Circular Economy Forum. We’re also working with our peers across the country, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and other organizations to develop national circular economy strategies that build on our work.
Supporting the global shift to sustainability
Creating a more circular food system will create plenty of local benefits. But it’s also going to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In 2015, all UN member states adopted these 17 goals as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives of everyone, everywhere. Sustainable development blends and balances social inclusion (people), environmental protection (planet), and economic growth (prosperity), meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to thrive.
Some of the goals have obvious links to food systems, such as zero hunger or good health and well-being. However, each SDG connects to food in one way or another. For example, reducing inequalities includes improving access to affordable nutrition. Climate action includes reducing carbon emissions from agricultural sectors. And quality education can’t happen without well-fed students.
Indeed, the UN has recognized just how powerful food systems can be in achieving those goals. In September 2021, they convened their first-ever Food Systems Summit — a landmark event that saw more than 150 countries commit to addressing hunger, climate change, poverty, and inequality by transforming the way they produce, consume, and think about food.
That’s exactly what we’re doing with Our Food Future and COIL.