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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Making a “Promise to the Planet” at this year’s Earth Hour

Martin Koehring

23 Mar 2018

“By making a “Promise to the Planet” and committing to turning off their lights for an hour, the WWF hopes ordinary people will bring pressure on governments to transition to a low-carbon economy, restore and protect important habitats, and help poorer countries protect themselves from climate change.”

On Saturday 24th March, 8.30 pm GMT will mean lights out for hundreds of millions of people across the planet. “Earth Hour”, organized by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), is the world’s biggest environmental movement. In 2017 Earth Hour saw 9m people in the UK alone turn out the lights for an hour. The annual event will also see the world’s most famous landmarks, including Buckingham Palace and Sydney Opera House, plunged into darkness as a symbol of commitment to a cleaner, greener planet.

According to the WWF, 40% of the world’s forests have been replaced by agricultural land in the past 30 years, with 15m trees lost annually for soya bean production alone. Half of land species have seen their populations decline, rising to 80% among freshwater species, and one in six of the planet’s species face the risk of extinction due to climate change.

Actions to improve food systems

By making a “Promise to the Planet” and committing to turning off their lights for an hour, the WWF hopes ordinary people will bring pressure on governments to transition to a low-carbon economy, restore and protect important habitats, and help poorer countries protect themselves from climate change. The non-government organization also hopes to encourage people and governments to improve food systems and promote sustainable farming, waste reduction and responsible consumption, including through the adoption of sustainable diets.

As our understanding of how lifestyle choices, food systems and waste affect the local and global environment has expanded dramatically, so too have the opportunities available to us to make personal changes—and support policy shifts—that make a real contribution towards sustainability. For example, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, analyses and ranks 34 countries across dozens of indicators and sub-indicators, grading them according to three pillars: the sustainability of food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges.

Those taking part in Earth Hour can make a real difference in some of the areas covered by the FSI. Take food loss and waste, for example. The FSI tracks not only the percentage of total food production that is lost—with Australia, the US, Hungary and Canada scoring highly given the fractional amounts of food lost in these countries. It also assesses the quality of policies of addressing food loss and solutions to distribution-level loss, among other indicators, all of which are areas where citizens can campaign and take action to reduce waste and food loss.

Within the sustainable agriculture pillar, the FSI scores countries according to their land use, with constituent indicators including, for example, the environmental impact of agriculture on land. Consumers can make a difference here through demand for organic food. The index incorporates the extent of arable land under organic agriculture, with Sweden, Italy and Germany having a relatively high share.

The management and health of water and air are also recorded, including the sustainability of fisheries—an area where France, Tunisia and Brazil score poorly, reflecting a high percentage of fishing stocks overexploited and collapsed.

Nutrition and sustainability

And then there are nutritional challenges—an area where individual pledges for change can collectively make a huge difference. The index tracks dietary patterns, measuring key areas where consumers and citizens can make choices to improve not only their nutrition but safeguard the planet as well. Meat consumption levels are measured, with Morocco scoring highest (with just 5.9g per head per day eaten above the recommended daily intake) and Australia (at 228.4g) the lowest. The number of people per fast food restaurant is also factored into the overall score, with the US, Australia and Canada having a high fast-food density and thus a low score in this category. Another factor is the extent of including nutrition education in the primary and secondary school systems, with countries such as Brazil, France and Portugal scoring highly, while countries such as the US, China and Italy show significant room for improvement in this category.

Even fast-food chains such as McDonald’s are responding to growing awareness about the impact of meat consumption, for example, on the global environment, through the introduction of vegan burgers. This shows that this year’s Earth Hour provides a clear opportunity for ordinary people to reflect on the relationship between their diets, the broader food system they live within, and the planet and its species. By assessing the available data, making informed decisions and pressing their representatives to take action, citizens can make a promise to the planet that lasts well beyond March 24th.

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