The art of purchasing and consuming foods involves much more than just taste, cost and nutrition. In addition to these primary factors that drive food choices, the topic of sustainability has garnered much attention among consumers and is a growing factor in their food choices. This course, Sustainability, Nutrition and Health delves into issues regarding the sustainability movement that are relevant to health professionals in counseling their clients.
By the end of the course, you should have:a better understanding of what the term “sustainability” meansan increased awareness of consumer trends regarding sustainability and healtha greater understanding of the current sustainable agricultural practices and issuesand a direction for counseling clients in ways that meet both their health needs and values related to sustainability
Increasingly consumers are concerned with not just health and nutrition, but how food was grown, where it was grown, whether sustainable agricultural practices were used and a multitude of other ethical and social issues regarding food production practices. Why the change?
From the media to the political front, issues such as climate change, population growth, global warming, biofuels, and sustainable agriculture are headlines making food more than just something to eat. The consumer is bombarded with headlines and messages such as these shown here, meant to inform, educate, and motivate consumers. However, the resulting impressions, often unbalanced, do not depict the ‘whole picture’ and are frequently agenda-driven.
By 2020, the global population is expected to increase by 3 billion and by 2050 food consumption is expected to double and income is expected to triple. As consumption and international trade increase, the carbon and water footprints will correspondingly increase. The impact of food production and distribution to meet these demands will need to be addressed if we truly work toward a sustainable environment.
The Institute for the Future (IFTF) research finds that individuals are linking their personal health to community ecology and the environment and have coined the term, “green health.” “Green Health” in the world of sustainability is a social movement… and emerging today as something not seen before.
As health professionals, we have a responsibility to understand the connection of food, health and sustainability and an opportunity to guide consumers in making food purchasing decisions that will not only sustain the environment around them, but their own health as well.We are starting to look at food choices through the lens of what is “good for you, your family and the environment” … ideally, seeking the mutual overlap of these factors.
The term “sustainability” initially surfaced in the 1980s during international discussions about environmental issues that impact the global economy. Nations recognized that the growth of their economies depended on innovations that would save the environment for the present as well as future generations. Today, sustainability is seen as an emerging concept but no universally accepted definition exists. According to Dr. Frederick Kirshenmann of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, “Sustainability is about maintaining something indefinitely into the future. Consequently, to be sustainable we have to anticipate and successfully adapt to the changes ahead. Sustainability is a process, not a prescription. This process always requires social, ecological and economic dimensions. There is therefore, no simple definition. It is a journey we embark on together and not a formula we agree to.”
Robert Rodale, the late publisher of American health and wellness resources often said, "Sustainability is a question rather than an answer." And the “three question test” that we must ask regarding sustainable practices are: 1) Is it economically feasible? 2) Is it environmentally sound? 3) Is it socially responsible?
According to a USDA white paper, since our ancestors adopted an agricultural lifestyle about 10,000 years ago, our own sustainability has been intimately tied with our food production systems. Those systems currently support 6.7 billion humans, or more correctly, adequately support about 5.9 billion with another 800 million or so suffering from food insecurity, malnutrition or hunger. Advances in agricultural technology over the past 40 years have increased productivity to feed an additional 3.9 billion people while using less than 10% more land.
An editorial in the September, 2009 Agricultural Research Journal highlights the urgency to ramp up sustainable agricultural production both in the U.S. and abroad due to the competing demands for land, water and air. By 2050, the U.S. population is projected to increase almost 50% to 439 million and the available farmland is expected to decrease. Therefore it is imperative for agriculture to examine strategies that are both sustainable and efficient. However, the development of agricultural technology to increase yield has also raised issues about long-term sustainability.
Sustainable agriculture was addressed by Congress in the 1990 Farm Bill. Under that law, the term “sustainable agriculture” means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term: -satisfy human food and fiber needs-enhance environmental quality and the natural-resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends-make the most efficient use of non-renewable and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls -sustain the economic viability of farm operations and- enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
To some consumers, organic production and sustainability are perceived as one and the same, even though current production standards may not validate this concept. For these consumers organic food is seen as having personal benefits, including the absence of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics, no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and non-genetically modified foods. They perceive it to be safer for one's health with environment-friendly as an additional benefit. The Food Marketing Institute validates the consumer’s perceived personal benefits, noting that consumers are much more interested in where food comes from than they were in the past… originating from either environmental concerns or reoccurring food safety issues. As health professionals, it is important to recognize this perception held by some consumers and to be able to discuss whether scientific evidence exists to validate their beliefs.
This slide shows the results of a 2009 survey conducted by the Grocery Manufacturers of America. They surveyed 6500 shoppers in 11 retail outlets and found that :1 in 5 customers considers sustainability to be a primary decision-making factor.1 in 3 customers is influenced by sustainability as a consideration54% of shoppers are “leaning green” meaning sustainability is part of their personal formula used to recognize product value. However, in this particular survey, only 22% of the shoppers interviewed as they left the store had actually purchased a green product on this particular shopping trip.One may conclude from this disparity that many shoppers may be missing the “green” messages being delivered by manufacturers; or perhaps price and/or convenience “trumps” the green factor when actual purchases are made.
In 2009, Weiss Markets, conducted a survey of dietitians working in supermarkets and asked them to rank issues relating to sustainability in order of perceived importance to consumers. 25 registered dietitians responded. The top issues were: -finding foods with fewer additives, followed by -finding and supporting locally produced foods, -organic food, -reusable shopping bags, -seeking sustainable seafood and -guidance on the safety of genetically modified foods. Other issues included: difficulty balancing costs with concerns for sustainability, health and wellness; confusion over whether to purchase grass-fed or pastured meats and dairy; and deciding whether to purchase meats and dairy produced without added hormones versus conventional production.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the top consumer trends as they relate to sustainable choices:- Consumers are seeking more simplicity in their food supply. People are seeking food products with simple, familiar ingredients they can trust.- They are also seeking foods that are pure, natural and fresh. - There is a consumer perception that processed foods relate to disease and that pure, fresh and natural equals health. Yet, we know it is not that simple. In fact, the increased availability of seasonal foods year-round in any geographic location is possible through processing. Frozen vegetable and canned tomatoes are some examples. - Consumers are also looking for foods that are fresh or minimally processed with fewer unnecessary additives… for example, ingredients they can pronounce. - Finally, they’re looking for reductions in unnecessary packaging… as long as making that change doesn’t pose any related food-safety risks.
Despite the current economy, sustainable behaviors are not declining, according to The Hartman Group. Consumers are making more deliberate decisions and tradeoffs, especially with less essential food items such as spices or household products. Even though the Baby Boomers are making more of the sustainably- related purchases today, Generation Y are talking “the talk” and are predicted to have greater impact on the issue in the future.
As health professionals, we need to understand the terminology and issues surrounding the world of sustainability. Sustainability is a complex issue with few “black and white” answers. The food and agricultural industries are grappling with the unknowns of evidence-based science and the theories of “emotional science.” The following are some ways that scientists are beginning to attempt to measure environmental impact and it is just a small part of the big picture of sustainability.Let’s start by talking about some basic terms:Carbon Footprint refers to the amount of green house gas emitted during the “farm to fork” food cycle and is expressed in tons of carbon dioxide. It includes other green house gases such as methane (which is the gas expelled from livestock). Carbon Neutral refers to fuels that neither contribute to nor reduce the amount of carbon (measured in the release of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. Pure biofuels (such as biodiesel, bioethanol and biobutanol) are carbon neutral since the C02 released by being burned is absorbed by plants. For example, the C02 released by burning a gallon of biodiesel today is absorbed from the atmosphere by soybean plants being grown to produce tomorrow’s next gallon. No net carbon is added to the environment.Another term, food miles, refers to the distance food travels from source until it reaches the consumer or end-user. This is a term used to assess one aspect of the environmental impact of food. Even though these terms have been defined, the calculation of these metrics is still not standardized, creating the opportunity for untruths and misleading conclusions. It is important to look at all the variables when discussing the environmental impact of a food production.
According to the Agricultural Research Service, much of our food travels great distances, some estimate up to 2,000 miles, before it reaches our plates, and more than half is imported. The 100-Mile Diet is a philosophy adopted by some consumers to eat locally and reduce transportation within our food system. However, our society’s desire to consume a variety of food year-round regardless of location creates some challenges to this philosophy. And whether this approach actually is healthful… is another point of discussion.Preserving family farms, controlling urban sprawl, and creating markets to sell local products is one way to reduce food miles. However, when evaluating food miles as related to the environmental impact, one needs to look at the bigger picture. Studies conducted at Cornell University on transporting eggs show, as a result of high capacity cargo volumes in modern transportation systems, that food can be efficiently moved over long distances and remain highly fuel efficient--and thus environmentally friendly. These results indicate that it is not sufficient to judge only the miles food has traveled to determine the eco-friendliness of the product, but a more detailed life cycle assessment is required.
Sustainable practices can take place on multiple levels, from production to packaging to waste reduction. “Sustainable agriculture” is often visualized as small in scale and organically grown. But sustainable agricultural practices can be incorporated within any ongoing activity or process whether it’s "conventional" agriculture or "alternative" agriculture. Reduction of packaging is another means to reduce waste in the food chain. Retailers such as Wal-Mart have pushed suppliers by setting goals to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a product. For example, milk cartons have been re-designed to reduce the amount of plastic used and allow more cartons in a case. Sustainable practices also include ways to reduce waste throughout the food system. Using byproducts from food processing as animal feed and composting food waste to use as fertilizer are examples of ways the food chain can be more sustainable. For example, the dairy industry is looking at manure digesters to convert animal waste into “on the farm” electrical power source or as fertilizer. Of all food waste that occurs, 40% is at the other end of the food chain, the consumer. Buying less, eating small portions, storing food properly and preserving food for year-round consumption are ways to significantly reduce waste within the home setting.
Even though organic production does restrict the use of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, that does not mean organic equals sustainable production. The majority of organic production in the U.S. is large-scale with similar transportation miles required for distribution as conventionally-produced food. Soil and water conversation practices for organic production may be no better than conventional practices for similar crops.
So… how do we create a global effort that encompasses all aspects of sustainability? Marianne Smith Edge, a former President of the American Dietetic Association, nationally-recognized consultant to the food and health industry, and who spent her youth on the farm, provides her perspective. “Sustainability is not just about the environment or economics… it’s about creating a sustainable environment that will provide the necessary nutrients to sustain health for all individuals. Viewing sustainability through the lens of local sustainable farm venues is one aspect, but overall, sustainability is about sustaining health, sustaining life. For me, the real question in this whole sustainability equation is “How do we feed the world responsibly?”Let’s look at various aspects of sustainability in the production, distribution and consumption of our food.
Defining what are sustainable practices for the food industry and especially in agricultural production is one of the first steps that must be accomplished. We need to recognize that there are sustainable practices in place, but defining them is often left to the interpretation of the respective organization. Without standards, the whole area of sustainability is “the wild west”… charging ahead without any restraints. The Leonardo Academy, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive sustainability services to help companies and organizations understand, quantify, manage and report their overall sustainability, is working on an American National Standard for Sustainable Agriculture (SCS-001), under the rules of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to define what is sustainable agriculture. One outcome of this effort could be a new “sustainable agriculture” label stamped on food or it could create a system that rewards farmers for doing things like reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they use. A final version is expected in 2012.
Research universities, such as the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas and the Leopold Center at Iowa State University, are working with companies, commodity groups and retail chains on identifying ways to improve environmental performance in the food supply chain. Projects range from reducing transportation cost, package reconfiguration, carbon trading and carbon credits to “on-the-farm” practices. For example, at the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, researchers are working with the dairy industry to improve the sustainability of a gallon of milk through lifecycle assessment methodology.
“Our lifecycle assessment… it’s really a pretty comprehensive life study… it’s from the crop production all the way across the supply chain to the end of life. So, we are the pioneers in the food industry to provide this level of detail on how to address all those potential environmental issues. And that’s made this study outstanding and remarkable.”
According to The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), a global, non-profit organization comprised of food retailers and wholesalers, the retail industry is focusing on key areas of sustainability which include locating and purchasing sustainable food (especially seafood), packaging and creating “green” buildings.
Taste and convenience still rule for the average consumer when making food purchases, according to the International Food Information Council 2008 Consumer Trend Survey. So, balancing the “wants” with the nutritional needs of the consumer—as well as price—must be considered within the context of the sustainability discussion. The sustainability equation must encompass the health of all consumers.
Encourage food purchasing habits that minimize packaging, transportation and kitchen waste.A balanced approach is needed in making food choices; consider a food’s nutrient contribution, individual preferences and carbon footprint.Utilize websites and resources for information and new ideas on practicing sustainability.
It is well documented that the “sustainability factor” is not a fad, but a movement gradually seeping from the fringe to the mainstream. According to The Hartman Group Sustainability Survey, “Tomorrow’s consumers are concerned about sustainability but in different ways than today’s consumers. Some sustainability terms resonate more with teenagers than with adults, in particular the topics of “simple living,” “all natural,” “social activism,” “eat local” and “animal welfare.”
Sustainability is about sustaining life, sustaining health “for you, your family, your community and the world.”This concludes the PowerPoint slide portion of this course. For handouts and additional reading material and/or to take the test to submit for CE credits, return to the introduction page for the course.
Sustainability Pp Draft Final May 2010 Copy July10
Nutrition & Health
CE Course 2010
Author: Marianne Smith Edge,
MS, RD, LD, FADA
Lori Hoolihan, PhD, RD
Maureen Bligh, MA, RD
o A better understanding of what the term “sustainability”
o Increased awareness of consumer trends regarding sustainability
o A greater understanding of current sustainable agricultural
practices and issues
o Direction on counseling clients in ways that meet both their
health needs and values related to sustainability
The Balancing Act
Health & Nutrition
Global and U.S. Trends
o Consider the Facts:
o By 2020, global population increases by 3 billion
o By 2050, food consumption doubles and income triples
o Consider the Outcomes:
o Carbon and water footprints will increase
o Impact of increased food production and distribution on the
Convergence of Health & Environment
The Institute for the Future describes the
“a social movement linking personal health
to community ecology and the
… or “green health.”
“Sustainability” is not a Household Word
o Almost three quarters (71%) of consumers say they
don’t know or are uncertain which companies support
o 75% of consumers say they don’t know or are
uncertain which products are sustainable
The Hartman Group Sustainability Study, 2009
The Role of Health Professionals
Accept the responsibility to
understand the connection of food,
health, and sustainability
Seek opportunities to guide
consumers in making food
purchases that will sustain the
environment and their personal
good for the
Sustainability: A Process not a Prescription
“…Sustainability is an emerging concept…
maintaining something indefinitely into the future.
Consequently to be sustainable we have to
anticipate and successfully adapt to the changes
ahead. Sustainability is a process not a prescription.”
“ This process always requires social, ecological and
economic dimensions. There is therefore, no simple
definition. It is a journey we embark on together and
not a formula we agree to.”
Source: Frederick Kirshenmann, Ph.D. Leopold Center for Sustainable
Healthy People, Planet, Profit
o “Sustainability is a question rather than an answer.”
o The “3 question test” to evaluate sustainable practices
1) Is it economically feasible?
2) Is it environmentally sound?
3) Is it socially responsible?
Quote by the late Robert Rodale
Connecting Food and Sustainability
o Our own sustainability connection with food production
systems began over 10,000 yrs ago.
o Today, those systems support 6.7 billion people, but only
adequately support 5.9 billion.
o Advances in agricultural technology in the past 40 yrs
increased production to feed an additional 3.9 billion people
with less than 10% more land use.
Gold, Mary V. “Sustainable Agriculture, Definitions
and Terms, NAL/USDA ,ISSN 1052-5368
Assuring Adequate Food Supply
o By 2050, the U.S. population
will increase almost 50% to
o Available farmland is projected
o The future “supply and
demand” of food vs. land
requires urgency to develop
strategies that are both
sustainable and efficient.
Agricultural Research Vol 57 (8); 2009, ARS/USDA
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
An integrated system of plant and animal production practices
having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
o Satisfy human food and fiber needs
o Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource
o Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and
on-farm resources, integrating natural biological cycles and
o Sustain the economic viability of farms
o Enhance quality of life for farmers and society
Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990
“Consumers are not simply ‘born’ into the World of
Sustainability; they first must develop a frame of mind
to even participate in the World …
either from the notion of risk or inspiration of hope for
the future and a desire to do and feel good.”
The Hartman Group Sustainability Report, 2009
The Sustainability Umbrella
The Hartman Group Sustainability Study, 2008
The Personal Connection
Some consumers view organic and sustainability through
the lens of personal benefits:
o Absence of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, or growth
o Absence of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives
o Non-genetically modified
How important is Sustainability
to the Consumer?
• consider sustainability to be a dominant
or primary decision-making factor in
many merchandise categories
1 in 5
• influenced by sustainability as a
consideration.1 in 3
• “actively consider” sustainability
issues as one of their decision-making
factors in product and store selection.
Source: 2009 Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) study
How Important is Sustainability
to the Consumer?
“Almost 90% of consumers
believe in the health-
environment connection, but
only about 26% of them have
changed their behavior to
ensure a healthier
The Hartman Group Sustainability Report 2009
What do Supermarket RDs Think?
K Buch: Healthy Earth, Healthy Eating: Connecting
Sustainability with Health & Wellness, FNCE 2009.
Seeking Sustainable Choices
Consumers are seeking:
o Food products with simple, familiar ingredients they can trust
o More pure/fresh/natural
o Foods that are fresh or minimally processed with fewer additives
with ingredients they can pronounce
o Reductions in unnecessary packaging without compromising
Sustainability is Here to Stay
o Sustainable behaviors are not
o Consumers making deliberate
decisions and tradeoffs in less
essential food/ household items.
o Baby Boomers are the main
purchasers of sustainably-related
o Generation Y’s talking the “talk” and
predicted to move sustainability into
The Hartman Group Sustainability Survey, 2009
The World of Sustainability
Sustainability efforts are a joint
responsibility of many parties:
o Individuals and families
o Health professionals;
o Food industry (producers and
Understanding the World of Sustainability
o Carbon Footprint: The amount of green
house gas emitted during the “farm to fork”
food cycle, expressed in tons of Carbon
o Carbon Neutral: Reducing the amount of
greenhouse gas and "offsetting” what is left
after the reductions.
o Food miles: Distance food travels from the
source until it reaches the consumer or end-
user. One of several indicators to assess the
environmental impact of food.
The Economics of Sustainability
Creation of local markets/ regional
food systems can:
halt the exodus of local food
re-circulate dollars within the
community from farm to point of
create new jobs!
The Economics of Sustainability
o According to ARS/USDA, some of our food travels
up to 2,000 miles (depending on season) and over
50% is imported.
o Regional/ local food systems can reduce the number
of miles our food travels before it reaches the plate.
o Excessive food miles are a result of our desire for
variety (regardless of season or location) and good
Both conventional and organic
- Agriculture can convert animal waste into
“on the farm” electrical power or fertilizer,
and use byproducts from food processing
for animal feed
- 40% of all food waste is at consumer level.
Consumers can buy less, eat less, store
and preserve food properly.
Is Organic Sustainable?
Consider the facts:
o Organic production does limit use of pesticides, herbicides,
o Majority of organic production is large scale
o Similar food miles as conventional products for distribution
o Soil and water conversation practices may be equivalent to
Connecting the Dots—Health & Sustainability
Marianne Smith Edge, MS,
RD, LD, FADA
Former President of the
American Dietetic Association
consultant to the food and
Defining Sustainable Practices: On the Farm
o Leonardo Academy developing an American
National Standard for Sustainable Agriculture by
2012….the first step in identifying sustainable
o The ultimate outcomes: a “sustainable agriculture”
label stamped on food products and reward
system for farmers doing “things right.”
Defining Sustainable Practices: Food Production
o Research universities working with companies,
commodities groups and retail chains to identify
ways to improve environmental performance of the
food supply chain.
o Projects include reduction of transportation cost,
package reconfiguration, carbon trading & carbon
credits, “on farm practices”
o Researchers at Univ of Arkansas are working with
the dairy industry to improve the sustainability of a
gallon of milk.
Lifecycle Assessment of Milk
Sustainability Summit: Creating Value through Dairy Innovation, DMI 2009
Defining Sustainable Practices: Food Production
Ying Wang, Ph.D.
Director, Life Cycle Analysis
Dairy Management Inc.
Defining Sustainable Practices: Retail
“The retail industry is
focusing on key areas of
food, especially seafood,
packaging and water
footprint reduction as well
as creating ‘green’
The Food Marketing Institute
The Sustainability Equation
Taste + Convenience + Nutrition + Price =
Sustaining Health for All
Translating Sustainability into Dietary Choices
Sustainability & Health—
Compatible or Divergent?
o Reducing intake of animal foods may reduce our
carbon footprint, but do we consume less of the daily
o How realistic is “locally-produced” food in most
regions of the U.S.? Can a balanced diet be
achieved using this criteria in most communities?
Watch for the Carbon Counters!
Sustainability: The Home Component
Creating a sustainable future
involves the consumer
considering all of the following:
o The choice of food
o The packaging of the
o Storage of the food at
o Serving size and waste
Sustainability at Home: Purchases
o Connect the consumer’s desire
for fresh, simple foods with one
ingredient foods—fish, fruit,
beans, dairy, vegetables.
o Emphasize MyPyramid serving
sizes and amounts to reduce
cost, waste and waist line.
o Educate consumer about buying
the most nutrition for the dollar—
the “nutrient rich” way.
o Promote buying foods in season,
from local sources, with minimal
packaging and fewer ingredients.
Sustainability at Home:
Planning, Preparation and Cooking
o Connect sustainable eating with the “return to the kitchen.”
o Create opportunities for consumers to perfect cooking, meal
planning and preservation skills.
o Work with supermarkets to create “sustainable food” tours-
identifying foods that are good for you and the environment.
o Utilize resources—websites, Cooperative Extension Services,
Practicing Sustainability: Key Messages
o A healthy diet includes all food
groups and “nutrient-rich”
o Healthy diets = healthy bodies,
o Go “back-to-the-basics”– re-
discover the pantry and the
o Plan menus in order to buy just
the amount of food needed
and minimize food waste.
Practicing Sustainability: Key Messages
o Encourage purchasing food with less packaging,
transportation, and waste
o Think “balance” when buying food: footprint, nutrient
contribution and preference
o Utilize websites and resources for information
The Future of Sustainability
o The “sustainability factor” is here to stay, but
balancing evidence-based science with “emotional”
science will be the essential ingredient for acceptance
o “Tomorrow’s consumers are concerned…but in
different ways than today’s consumers. The topics of
‘simple living,’ ‘all natural,’ ‘social activism,’ ‘eat local’
and ‘animal welfare’ resonate with teenagers.”
The Hartman Group Sustainability Survey, 2009
The Health Professional’s Role
in the World of Sustainability
conversation with consumers
Educator—provide guidance to
consumers about sustainable
integrate sustainable practices.
Influencer—work with food and
agriculture industry to provide
“Sustaining life, sustaining health for
you, your family, your community and