I am having a conversation with Marc Buckley, an international speaker on the climate crisis and a man determined to bring food reform to the world. He describes his mission is to ‘empower billions of global citizens to live an adaptive lifestyle of health and sustainability within planetary boundaries’.
This may seem an impossible task but with Marc’s background, he might just be the right man for the job.
He is an official UN SDG Advocate, Country coordinator for Al Gore’s Climate Reality in Germany and Austria; forms part of the expert network of the World Economic Forum; he is a consultant and social entrepreneur and comes from a family who for 5 generations has been one of Germany’s largest organic farmers and for 4 generations hydroponic agronomists. This does not nearly cover his qualifications or experience, which has led him to dedicate his life’s work to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.
Marc Buckley is clear:
“There’s no place on this earth that you can hide or be exempt from climate change. It doesn’t matter what corrupt leaders we have. We’re all ruining this world together – If China did 100 percent on fulfilling all the SDGs and did everything they could do to reach the goals but every other country didn’t, it wouldn’t matter. Because we all need to do it.”
We are talking about how governments and companies are trying to score environmental points by promising to reduce their carbon emissions. He is quick to pull them up on it.
“When a company releases an annual report and it says we’re reducing our carbon emissions by 40 percent or 60 percent; basically they’re telling you nothing. They’re telling you that they’re driving slower in the wrong direction. They’re still stabbing you slowly with the knife or shooting you with a slow bullet.
We need to stop and reverse our direction. What happens today doesn’t show up until about 10 years later. We’re still on a curve of exponential warming. So we need to go in a positive direction instead of saying we’re reducing 20, 30, 40 percent. We need to stop and clean up. We need to start changing the industry and redo the way we’ve done business for the last 200 years.”
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again hoping for different results. Even if every country and business in the world stopped and reversed their direction it does not mean that POOF all the greenhouse gas emmissions dissappear nor the air or pastic pollution. When you throw away, think and imagine an image of our planet; there is No Away. It all stays here on earth. We need to clean up and move to closed ECO systems where we either do not create waste, emissions, and pollution or we use it in a circular economy system so that it is used endlessly in a biological or technical system forever.”
If we are going to turn the tide on global warming, he sees food reform as key, alongside empowering women and girls and the need to rethink refrigeration. He knows there is no single solution, rather we need to adopt a systems view of life and address the multifaceted aspects of each system. He reasons:
”We have this very linear lateral approach of the world. But our world is very complex and it’s made up of a lot of systems. In today’s day and age, we need to understand how these systems work and function and connect. It’s vital to change how we think.” He did not change his thinking overnight and sites it as a slow but fortunate transformation. As an entrepreneur, he has owned 17 businesses and until the last 6, they were driven by profit and short term gains. Finally, the light bulb went on and he realised, ‘‘The world’s biggest problems are also the world’s biggest business opportunities. There is a wealth of opportunities out there”.
Today, the food and agriculture industry is more polluting than the fossil fuel industry. As scientists repeatedly warn us, biodiversity is being destroyed by human activities at a rate unprecedented in human history. The stability of food supply is projected to decrease and unsustainable land management is showing increasingly negative economic impacts. It is not a question of whether the food and beverage industry will change but how quickly.
Marc speaks at close to 200 events each year, including the World Economic Forum advocating for what he explains as “a global reform of the entire food system so that every food that we produce is produced in a sustainable and resilient way.” He is certain that “When we achieve this, there won’t be people dying of obesity and malnutrition at the same time.“
His views align with the UN’s warning as he affirms:
“It’s about how we produce that is the future (CleanTech), not about the future food product or the vegan diet or food tribe. Those are great but those are one facet in the system. If you produce it sustainably, resiliently without greenhouse gas emissions without fossil fuels, without pesticides, preservatives, without waste, without bad packaging; it’s virtually impossible to have a bad product. It’s about how we produce any product or food. No matter what, it is what’s going to save us.”
Marc practices what he preaches and has achieved all of the above with The ALOHAS ECO-Centre, which sets a world example for a 100% eco-friendly food and beverage production. It is a agriculture, food and beverage facility using vertical farming (a Closed Controlled Environment Agriculture System) production near Hamburg that has harnessed cradle to cradle concepts to deliver high-quality food for the organic food market. Vertical farms produce foods in vertically stacked layers usually integrated in a contained environment (eg: building structure) using indoor farming techniques and controlled-environment agriculture technology. The 3 Hydroponic systems used are aero misting, aero fogging, and nutrient film technology. All of which use no soil, but rather nutrient rich water solutions, which plant roots access directly. In this environment all production factors can be regulated. This offers a host of benefits. As Farming Connect reports, ‘There is no loss of nutrients to the environment; hugely reduced land requirement (10-20 times), better control of waste, greatly reduced production loss due to pests and diseases (~ 40% less), year round crop production, increased daylight hours or growing time per day, no variation in productivity due to weather variation, and no adverse effects of extreme weather events. Most vertical farms also use 70-80% less water than conventional growing.’ They can be integrated easily into urban landscapes, reducing the length of supply chains. It is a healthy and resilient solution to food security and safety.
It seems like the perfect solution but vertical farming or controlled environment agriculture has received a lot of criticism, largely because of the amount of energy required to grow produce, and thus the economic cost of production.
Marc would fully agree and he knows why. Of all the 1,680 plus vertical farms in operation globally, ALOHAS is the only one operating on cradle to cradle principles using ambient water harvesting and rain water recycling, renewable energy, energy storage, and full waste plant processing that is CO2 neutral and has a net-zero energy balance.
He remains quite baffled as to why nobody else is doing it. He explains:
“What you see is this cool vertical farm company. But for one head of lettuce, they’re charging almost 4 euros. And you’re like well that’s a bad business model. Who’s going to want to buy that?”.
In contrast, ALOHAS can meet market prices and not just locally.
“We went to China as we wanted to make sure that our products were comparable with the lowest product on the market, which is 6 cents for a head of lettuce. We’re able to compete with any price whether it’s salad or cold-pressed juice. And that is because we’ve addressed all aspects of the Water Energy Food Nexus which reduces our Cost of Good Sold COGs. It’s about how you produce and make things to deliver the biggest bang for your buck. It’s about efficiency and that’s what sustainable development is. It’s about infrastructure and business efficiency.”
He’s keen to share their know-how and believes that the current market is not even tickling the problem that the agriculture, food, and beverage industry needs to address. As he says:
“With 100,000+ vertical farms around the world, we would begin to address the potential this, the largest industry in the world holds. We need to feed 10 Billion by 2050 within our planetary boundaries with the resources we have. Hopefully you can see that it is not just food and beverages; that producing like this brings an infrastructure of renewable energy, storage, nonfinite resources and resiliency.”
He enjoys making analogies so that we can better understand the facts. His manner is laid back and yet his words are very matter-of-fact.
“In the food industry, we share this common number. Thirty percent of everything produced in agriculture connected to the food and beverage industry is wasted. It doesn’t make it to the dinner table. Most people have heard that time and time again. If you were to ask any business in the world, for example, Apple and you said, ‘Oh wow, you just made this new iPhone 11. We want you to immediately take 30 percent of those phones you just made and throw them away.’ They would say, ‘Boy, that’s a bad business model. Why would we do that?'”
“That’s what we’ve been doing all our lives in the food industry and it has only gotten worse. But It is not just the figure of 30%; we really do not even understand the Exponential waste. Not only do we waste the finite resources of water, energy, food, but the emissions created in the entire process as well as the packaging, marketing, labor, time, growth, harvest, transport, refrigeration, processing, etc.”
“Beyond this, the top 3 ways we dispose of our waste are burying it in landfills, burning, or dumping it into our oceans and waterways. The top way is burying and it comes back to bite us the most because when you bury food with or without packaging it aggregates, ferments, generates, and releases methane which is 70 times more effective at producing heat than CO2. So now we have an exponential problem on our hands which was all created by needless waste.”
Marc doesn’t just see the need for food reform from an environmental perspective, but as critical to our autonomy as individuals. Without being aware, we have given up so much already. He’s keen to explain:
“In the current food system there’s 10 major food corporations owning well over 80 percent of all the world’s brands. Our diet is primarily made up of 12 plant species and 5 animal species, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. The concentration around just a few foods makes our food system less resilient to threats like disease, pests, and climate change. It also ignores the deliciously diverse bounty of thousands of underutilized foods across the globe and the communities that cultivate them. A biodiverse food system is one that offers more variety and resilience. Biodiversity in food sits at the intersection of taste and sustainability, which is good for people, planet, and business.”
“The conversation about Biodiversity in food is quickly gaining momentum and we want you to be ahead of the curve. If something went wrong with some of those it can impact the entire industry, the entire system. We need global food reform because it’s those 10 and other food producers who are the ones who are giving us the choice. We can only buy or do, in the Western world mainly but also in other countries, that what is available.”
“The individual needs to take back control of their most vital energy source. If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs the very bottom two layers of our physiological needs are breathing, food and water. The basic resources of security, are health and security of body. Our energy source, our battery, our fuel is food. Why would anybody on earth take their fuel source, their energy source and say I’m going to rely on 10 big companies to provide me with my daily energy source so that I can function as a human being?”
“That’s what we’ve done. Most people are not aware. In the Western world, where the majority of the problems lie, we don’t care. That’s like saying you never worry about charging your phone. Everywhere you go people look for energy, outlets, plugs, cords. Then the next thing they look for is Internet or WiFi. It’s an absurdity. Nobody would do that; get a phone and never be concerned if there was going to be a way to use it. We care a lot about if we can use it. Well, we do it with food all the time.”
Whilst Marc is very aware that time is of the essence, and the world needs to wake up, he holds a certain optimism. As our conversation comes to a close he sums it up by saying:
“We think it’s too complex and it’s too difficult. It’s easier just to go to the store, to the fast-food chain. But those are Western world problems. We need to embrace complexity, systems thinking, and understand how these ecosystems work and if we take back our place to be an integral part of this system, of our most valuable energy source, then we’ve got the battle won… All 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are tied to Agriculture, Food, and Beverages. They are a People, Planet, Prosperity, Protection Insurance plan to remain below 1.5 degrees of warming by 2030 but also to create a beautiful, resilient desirable future to live in for everyone alive, on this, our beautiful earth.”
It’s a hopeful conclusion but one that can only happen, if as individuals we jump on board and take action.
In 2020, Marc will be launching his latest book, Menu B – Planet Saving Food Solutions. In it he explores solutions to fix our broken food system and showcases some of the global innovations steering us towards achieving all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals. www.marcbuckley.earth.