#2 SUSTAINED By The G|O - Thursday, April 29th, 2021

#2 SUSTAINED By The G|O - Thursday, April 29th, 2021

How the Vegan Trend is Keeping us on Track with SDGs

This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete SUSTAINED - THE SDGS DECODED newsletter of April, 29th, 2021

How does the vegan trend benefits SDGs? A subject that was given new traction following the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Earth Day demonstration. Their message? “Beans not Beef.” The inspirational slogan was a perfect opportunity for Emeline Fellus, director of the FReSH (Food Reform for Sustainability and Health) project at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), to share her expertise on the matter and talk to SUSTAINED about the power of a vegetable diet. Plus, we have a few carefully selected SDG-related news items and another beautiful short film, part of Interdependence, an award-winning film anthology produced in Geneva.

How the Vegan Trend is Keeping us on Track with SDGs

“Beans not Beef” was the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s message to the White House for Earth Day, which coincided with Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22. A message shared by Emeline Fellus, director of the FReSH (Food Reform for Sustainability and Health) project at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Here is her insight on the growing trend.

SUSTAINED: Are plant-based diets a passing fashion or the future of how we eat, in your opinion?

Emeline Fellus: It all depends on if we are talking regionally or globally. Over the next decade, it is projected that global meat consumption will increase by 12% according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Much of that growth is expected to be in the poultry sector, for consumption in developing countries and countries in transition. On the other hand, initiatives like the Chef’s Manifesto, an organization formed by over 700 chefs in 77 countries, promote a shift in the way we eat. Awareness has grown considerably. But people are often eating way more meat than what is needed and sustainable. There is much progress to be made.

How has the pandemic impacted dietary trends?

EF: COVID has shown us how difficult access to plant-based products can be. Before the pandemic, 800 million people were under-nourished. This number has gone up to over 1 billion. At least one in five families can’t feed their families in a healthy way in many Western countries. There have also been major disruptions in the supply chain. A lot of the problem has to do with the way the commodities are produced, distributed and used. The main issue being that today healthier and more sustainable food is too expensive (see our sidebar story below for more on the cost of a balanced diet). Don’t forget that the number one cause of death in the world is poor diets, amongst which the main driver is lack of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts in the daily diet. On the positive side, revealing these problems gives us an opportunity to attempt to solve them.

How have you been promoting a more sustainable agricultural economy?

EF: We are extremely wired to the food production system. We need to tackle several pathways all together, from production to consumption. Last year, for instance, we published a guide to food system transformation. I must admit that it is a very sensitive subject. After all, there is a patronizing aspect to telling others to eat less meat, given the different ways and cultures that exist.

How can we do better, on an individual scale?

EF: We can stop throwing food in the garbage, for starters. Waste is a major problem, given that 30% of the world’s food production ends up in the trash. At WBCSD, we are proactively aiming at redefining value as well. We are helping accountants and investors consider social and environmental factors. That is the best place to initiate a global dietary shift.

What kind of political framework would the global shift require?

EF: Promoting a healthier production of food is key. How things are marketed is also important. Our job is to work directly with companies, but we also support those companies in creating partnerships with a number of stakeholders. We do our best to bring top players together.

Some countries have less-favorable climates to agriculture. Ultimately, how could they gain access to more diverse diets?

EF: That is a tough question. Some locations don’t offer the possibility of a very balanced diet. In many parts of Asia or Africa, for example, diets are composed for a big share of a limited diversity of staple crops. In such places, being able to eat more fruit and vegetable would be great, but in priority accessing animal protein can be a matter of survival.

French Chef Claire Vallée was recently awarded a Michelin star for her vegan restaurant ONA. What does this say about how veganism is perceived by society?

EF: It shows that meat consumption is a hot topic. There is a trend in the Western world towards more flexitarian diets. Nowadays, more and more people are becoming pescatarians, vegetarians or vegans. This reality varies across the population grids. In Europe, the number of vegans has doubled within the last four years. There are also 27.2% of omnivores that are expressing open-mindedness to other diet forms.

Affordable balanced diets

A balanced diet can be expensive. Fresh vegetable produce is inaccessible in regions across the globe and prices suffer the consequences of the limited offer. Livestock, on the other hand, comes with extremely detrimental environmental impacts and must be reduced to ensure sustainability in the food production system. Alternative protein and plant-based proteins are the most viable solutions to this problem today. According to a Meticulous Market Research published recently, companies like Beyond Meat or Nestle’s Sweet Earth brand are expected to grow by a whopping 9.5% by 2025, reaching a global value of US$17.9 billion. A trend also noted in the edible insects’ market, expected to grow annually by 24.4% until 2030. Plant-based proteins, such as beans or peas, are also excellent alternatives to meat consumption and enable their consumers to better manage body mass.

Sustained News in Brief

And the Most SDG-Friendly Universities are…

The Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings has recently designated the most SDG-friendly universities across the globe. The University of Manchester got the top spot in the classification, followed closely by the University of Sydney and the University of Australia. More than 100 metrics and 200 measurements were used to assess universities’ implication the 17 SDGs. Research output and wealth were not amongst the variables.

UNCTAD Helps Family Businesses Embrace Sustainability

UNCTAD and the Family Business Network (FBN), which is based in Switzerland, are working hand in hand to promote sustainability in business strategies. Globally, two-thirds of companies are owned or managed by families, who employ in turn 60% of the world’s workforce.

A New Roadmap for Oil and Gas

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has joined forces with IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for advancing environmental and social performance. The fruit of their shared labor is an SDG roadmap for the sector, outlining over 90 actions towards a more sustainable gas emissions industry.  

New Study Links Tropical Defaunation to SDG Trouble

Scientists at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) in Sweden and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Germany explore the links between defaunation of tropical forests and the SDGs. In a paper published in the scientific journal Ambio, they explain how the loss of biodiversity in tropical forests generates issues with food security and increases the risks of epidemics.

Biden’s Climate Summit Vows

Joe Biden’s global online climate event gave way to a series of resolutions. The US aims to reduce American emissions by 50-52% below 2005 by 2030. Chinese president Xi Jingping, quoted by The Economist, said he would “strictly limit the increase in coal consumption.” The Financial Times points out that the US is focused on technological advances, while the EU has focused its efforts on regulations and impact investments. A difference in strategy which endangers the US’s chances at success, according to experts.

Paraguay, First Latin American Country with SDG Bonds

Paraguay’s national regulation is the first in Latin America to integrate guidelines and bonds for SDGs. The Comisión Nacional de Valores (CNV), the national securities regulatory body, published a resolution on March 5th that modifies laws seeking to “endow the stock market with new financial instruments that promote social and environmental objectives” aligned with the 2030 agenda and the SDGs.


This week, SUSTAINED brings you "The Raft of the Medusa", a film about humanity's restructuration of the planet by Salome Lamas. Interdependence, a series of eleven short films ( 5’ to 11’) was the winner of the Best Narrative Feature at the London Eco Film Festival, March 2021. The film was produced under the patronage of the UNO in Geneva, WMO and the City of Milan. Production by ART for The World, Geneva Concept by Adelina von Fürstenberg, the stories illustrated by eleven international filmmakers from various continents reflect the intertwining relations between mankind and the environment and how they are worsened by climate change on several levels and dimensions, hinting at possible solutions. With the participation of the filmmakers Faouzi Bensaïdi/Morocco, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun/Tchad, Ása Hjörleifsdóttir/Iceland, Salome Lamas/Portugal, Bettina Oberli/Switzerland, Nila Madhab Panda/India, Shahrbanoo Sadat/Afganistan, Silvio Soldini/Italy, Daniela Thomas/Brazil, Leon Wang/China, Karin Williams/New Zealand

Today's Sustained: Sarah Zeines

Edited by: Paige Holt