Statistics tell us that people want to support clean energy and local food. Yet they remain a drop in the ocean in their contribution. Food and energy are key components of our lives and two of the rare commodities we are guaranteed to utilise on a daily basis.
This is a marketing dream however, from an industry point of view the two sectors are considered very separate entities with rarely any overlap in terms of businesses, work force or lobbying campaigns.
Having worked in renewable energy for nearly twenty years and a member of the energy institute, I consider myself firmly in the energy camp. But I also love food (who doesn’t) and so recently attended a sustainable food city talk out of mild curiosity.
What was immediately fascinating was how similar the debate and goals were. If the word food was replaced with energy the conversations would have belonged at any energy seminar. And what is most interesting is how these two groups; the food and energy sectors have so rarely overlapped but with almost parallel goals for the future.
For example, the aims of sustainable food cities are summarised by six key issues
1. Promoting healthy and sustainable food to the public
2. Tackling food poverty,
3. Building community food knowledge, skills, resources and projects
4. Promoting a vibrant and diverse sustainable food economy
5. Transforming food procurement
6. Reducing waste and the ecological footprint of the food system
If you read the list again and this time replace the word food with fuel, the intention is still the same such as reduce food waste or reduce energy wasted. Both would save money, resources and carbon emissions. What’s not to like?
The environmental sector has often focussed on single issue campaigns such as working to promote onshore wind or offshore wind, energy efficiency or recycling or organic food or save the bats. As a result most campaigns have gained limited traction and lacked mainstream appeal.
For example, would the Government, with all the public support and legally-binding targets, had so easily demolished financial incentives for clean energy if the renewables industry had a strong and coherent voice?
With greater awareness of how similar these two campaigns are perhaps now is the time for these two industries to form an alliance to convince people that local clean energy and local sustainable food is not only possible but a very good idea indeed?
For many people there is already a very real food vs fuel debate but with much more real consequences. To pay the power bill or to put food on the table to feed their families. The Trussell Trust last week said over 1 million families had to turn to food parcels in times of need last year whilst the Citizens Advice Bureau is inundated with people struggling to pay their winter energy bills amidst rising household debt. These are not just academic debates but real people who face choosing between cold or hunger.
Another similarity between the two sectors is that six companies dominate our energy and supermarket bills. The markets and competition authority is investigating the supply and acquisition of energy in Great Britain and announced their findings this week. The Groceries Code Adjudicator was appointed last year and found many supermarkets guilty of treating suppliers unfairly. However, the introduction of these ‘studies’ does not remove the pricing, poor service and short termism that has so characterised the domination of the big six.
Hopefully the boom in farmer’s market and community renewable energy will continue and provide an alternative route to market for generators of local food and energy that not only captures people’s hearts and minds but starts to provide real financial benefits and jobs.
Let’s hope in the future that the sector voices are combined to tell this great story to the consumer and influence the decision makers. The results are improved public health, replacing the big six, ensuring a fair deal for both customers and producers and energy and food are produced in a sustainable, low-carbon way that ensures a sustainable future for all whilst re-energising our rural economies. With such uncertainty over Europe, buying local makes such good sense.