Track: B

Date: 30.08.2018

Time: 5:30 – 6:30pm

Room: Checkpoint Charlie

Session 16: Sustainable Innovation in the Food Sector

Presenter: Anastasia Papangelou, KU Leuven

Co-Authors: Erik Mathijs

Feeding our cities has always been a heavy task for the planet. Circular Economy strategies, such as cascading organic flows, nutrient recovery or waste avoidance, can help alleviate this burden and create more resource-wise and sustainable urban food systems. However, such strategies can often be competitive to each other and have diverse effects on other systems, like the city’s water, energy and waste management sectors. Therefore, before designing and implementing circular solutions, it is necessary to compare and evaluate alternatives adopting a systems and multi-resource perspective. In this study, we offer such a systematic representation of an urban food system, by applying a multilayer material flow analysis approach to the food system of Brussels Capital Region (BCR). We are mapping biomass and phosphorus flows related to the food system through and within the administrative boundary of BCR. On a second step, we evaluate how these flows change when applying different circular scenarios for the food system of BCR, as well as the implications for the broader socio-economic context of the region. Our results highlight hotspots and possibilities for ‘closing the loops’ in urban food systems, as well as the importance of addressing multiple resources and trade-offs between them when assessing these.

Hamilton, H. A., Peverill, M. S., Müller, D. B., & Brattebø, H. (2015). Assessment of Food Waste Prevention and Recycling Strategies Using a Multilayer Systems Approach. Environmental Science & Technology, 49(24), 13937–13945.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017). Urban Biocycles. Retrieved from

Presenter: Hanna Helander, Chair of Societal Transition and Circular Economy, University of Freiburg

Co-Authors: Anna Petit-Boix, Sina Leipold, Stefan Bringezu

The circular economy (CE) is gaining increased attention among businesses and policy-makers as a potential solution to sustainability challenges. In environmental terms, the major goal of the CE is to operate within the planet’s carrying capacity. This demands rethinking systems and products in order to close material loops both within the anthroposphere and the ecosphere. Yet, how do we define and monitor the CE realization strategies that contribute the most to the CE goal? In our research, we suggest a conceptual and methodological approach to measure how and whether CE goals are achieved through CE interventions. In particular, we focus on food systems due to sustainability challenges such as food losses, inefficient resource use and environmental impacts [1]. To do so, we first apply a systems perspective to understand the flows involved in a product system and the goals that CE strategies should strive for. Once the system is understood, additional environmental tools, such as life cycle assessment (LCA), can be integrated to model the actual changes in environmental flows. The four footprints (water, land, materials and greenhouse gas emissions) will work as guidance for a strategy’s compliance with the CE goal and support the assessment of possible future pathways. Thereafter, we apply this approach to the food sector to test its actual configuration. To this end, we conduct transdisplinary research with German companies related to food retail with two main objectives. On the one hand, we seek to identify current practices and products and obtain information on barriers and enablers for a CE transformation. On the other hand, this approach also helps define potential future pathways and model scenarios. In this sense, practitioner workshops are conducted in order to define technically feasible scenarios. In both stages, LCA will be used to determine the current and potential environmental benefits and tradeoffs that arise from CE realization. With this contribution we present a conceptual model of a CE that derives from the major CE goal. Here, the socioeconomic metabolism helps define target flows between the anthroposphere and the ecosphere covering both limited resources and emissions. In this sense, the methodological approach suggests to measure four footprints for an efficient monitoring of the performance of a CE realization. This novel conceptual and applicable approach will support decision-making by defining environmentally sustainable pathways towards a circular food system.

[1] Jurgilevich, Alexandra; Birge, Traci; Kentala-Lehtonen, Johanna; Korhonen-Kurki, Kaisa; Pietikainen, Janna; Saikku, Laura; Schoesler, Hanna (2016): Transition towards Circular Economy in the Food System. Sustainability 8 (1).

Presenter: Gesa Biermann, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU)

Co-Authors: Yuki M. Asano

Human activity is the main driver of environmental change in our current era, the Anthropocene. Agriculture and food production represent a large portion of environmental burdens, contributing over 25% of global GHG emissions [1]. Pressure from food production is likely to increase in the future, due to the combined effect of population growth and a shift towards more animal protein [2]. While most efforts to close the food gap focus on increasing production, the issue can – and should, given the magnitude of the challenge – be simultaneously addressed from the consumption side.

Drawing on social practice theory, food consumption is seen as routine behavior that may change over time [3], [4]. Digital technologies are increasingly not only supporting our daily lives, but also shaping patterns of habitual practice. In the case of food consumption, digital technologies are causing a convergence of the private and public spheres: social media platforms, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, food blogs, and recipe websites allow the public a glimpse of what is cooked and eaten at home. Furthermore, digital media is driving the convergence of individual factors, social and physical environments influencing food choices, opening up new arenas for the evolution of more sustainable food practices.

Until now, research situated at the intersection of social media and food has focused on either health aspects, trends and consumer preferences, gender differences in cooking, or improving machine learning models [5]. Analysing big data from social media activities with regards to sustainability topics generally, and the environmental impact of the food system more specifically, is still in its infancy.

The presented research aims to close this gap, by evaluating trends – with a focus on proxies for environmental sustainability – of a large dataset of over 240,000 recipes from the most frequently visited German recipe website. A complex network approach is used to develop a highly informative ‘recipe atlas’ to reveal the latent structure of the data and author behaviours. The atlas reveals significantly higher cooking times – and therefore increased environmental pressure – for meat-heavy recipe clusters. We further find user-driven tendencies towards veganism that are even stronger than the growing offline trends. Life Cycle Assessment data is further connected to recipe ingredient lists to more accurately estimate environmental impacts.

This interdisciplinary research advances the knowledge on the evolution of food practices, highlighting recipes as exploratory spaces for the co-creation of what we should eat, in a future sustainable food system.

[1] D. Tilman and M. Clark, “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health,” Nature, vol. 515, no. 7528, pp. 518–522, 2014.
[2] M. Clark and D. Tilman, “Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice,” Environ. Res. Lett., vol. 12, no. 6, p. 64016, 2017.
[3] T. Hargreaves, “Practice-ing behaviour change: Applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change,” J. Consum. Cult., vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 79–99, 2011.
[4] A. R. Davies, F. Fahy, and H. Rau, Eds., Challenging Consumption: Pathways to a more Sustainable Future. Routledge, 2014.
[5] E. Pearson, H. Tindle, M. Ferguson, J. Ryan, and C. Litchfield, “Can We Tweet, Post, and Share Our Way to a More Sustainable Society? A Review of the Current Contributions and Future Potential of #Socialmediaforsustainability,” Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour., vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 363–397, Nov. 2016.

©2023 Forum for Sustainability through Life Cycle Innovation e.V. | Contact Us | Legal Info


If you would like to get in touch with us, please feel free to send us a message. Thank you very much in advance.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Join our newsletter and stay up-to-date on everything happening in the life cycle community! We'll send you 3-4 newsletters per year
Subscribe Now!

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account