Paving The Sustainability Superhighway: Connecting Food Tech, Mobility, and Energy
As anyone who has followed our work knows,Seeds&Chipsis dedicated to transforming the food system to a more just and sustainable system, from farm to fork and beyond. Our mission has always been to bring together a multiplicity of voices from every corner of the food, tech, and agricultural world to create an ecosystem by all, and for all. As the population continues to swell, and our resources grow scarce, we must rethink the way that we grow, that we cook, and that we eat in order to continue writing our story, together.
However, in order to bring good food, good technology, and good practices to everyone, we need good forms of transportation and mobility to complete the equation between producers, distributors, and consumers. Sustainable mobility goes to the very heart of the drive towards a better food system, and it is intrinsic to each and every link along the food chain. Just imagine that by 2030, passenger traffic will exceed 80,000 billion passenger-kilometers, and freight volume will grow by 70 percent globally. This is a 50 percent increase over current levels, and the effects of it are alarming: under current policies, greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to increase between 2030 and 2050 to 15% above 1990 levels,which is significantly higher than the 60% reduction target proposed for 2050 in the Paris Protocols.
If we do not begin to see the food system and the global mobility infrastructure as interconnected entities, we risk undoing the progress that we are all so deeply committed to making. Mobility is essential to the productivity and distribution of food to every human being in the world, because food is not a novelty, nor is it a vanity project, but is a necessity for each of us. Likewise, without a thriving food system that will guarantee the health and vitality of the global population, for whom will the incredible advances in mobility, transport, and energy be?
As Andrew Ive of FoodX notes so eloquently: “As I get deeper into Food-X I realize just how critical the food industry is. It’s not lipstick…or something that people sort of use. It’s absolutely fundamental to our survival, existence, and health.” Even as we move towards circular economic models, we remain dependent on transport systems, from the first harvest to the next planting. As the transport food chainincludes infrastructure, fuel, equipment, repair and maintenance, traffic management, and safety, transforming the global mobility complex into a sustainable system means understanding that each of these aspects are intimately connected both with each other as well as the goods that they carry. It is precisely for this reason that we must integrate the needs and goals of the global food system with those of the mobility and transport sectors. Indeed while it was not designated as it’s own goal, sustainable transport is essential to achieving most, if not all, of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly as it relates to food security.
As stakeholders in the food tech sector, this challenge may seem too vast to take on, when seen in its totality. If we are not able to rethink transport at the point of harvest, production, distribution, delivery and post-consumption, all that we have done risks being for naught. Yet rather than being deterred by this enormity, we must reach out to those who are themselves grappling with another thread in the tapestry of sustainable development.
In Italy, Enel has developed one of the most advanced programs for green energy adoption, circular economic models, and innovative mobility. As a highly influential company leading the chargeof innovation, Enel has inspired more than 350,000 businesses in the country to adopt green business models. Francesco Starace, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of Enel SpA, points out that“If there is a particular strength in our country it is the circularity of the economy, which is bigger, more diversified and more creative than we thought “. This investment in alternative energy makes Enel uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst for the wide scale implementation of clean energy in the transport and mobility sectors, which they have wholeheartedly embraced. At the Green Economy Festival in Trento, Starace declared that, “in ten years, and possibly less, we will be witness to a progressive and inevitable advancement of electric power in every energy site in the world. As the use of electric cars spreads, there will be an increasing need for energy storage. Batteries will be widely disbursed, and will consequently increase the importance of energy distribution systems and data management “.
Indeed, Italy is poised to become a leader in the renewable energy sector, with “more than 650,000 medium and low-voltage energy production plants ready to host an integrated digital network”, accordingto Starace. The seeds of change have already been planted in the Italian transport sector: companies like Piaggio are embracing the shift to green energy with their Piaggio Ecosolution portfolio, which has been exploring electric vehicles and biopower for more than 20 years. As a crossroads for so many different countries in Europe, particularly in the transportation of goods by land, Italy’s shift to a green economy signals a tremendous opportunity for food and ag tech to play a foundational part in this transformation.
All over the world, transport and mobility is undergoing a paradigm shift towards renewable energy and integrated systems that are better for companies, consumers, and the planet, and companies areintegrating innovative transport methods into their structure. The Dutch grocery delivery startup Picnicuses custom built electric vehicles to deliver local produce, and after only a year and a half in operation,they received €100 million in funding during a historically large series B round. While there are many reasons that Picnic as achieved such a meteoric rise, there is no doubt that their commitment to sustainability has been a cornerstone of their incredible success. This commitment has delivered impressive returns: Picnic’s fleet has grown to include 400 electric delivery trucks, and their historic funding will allow the company to expand their distribution throughout the Netherlands.
Tesla’s Semi, a long haul electric truck with four independent motors, an enhanced autopilot, and energy costs that are half those of diesel, has the potential to alter the very nature of transporting our food around the world. Not only is the Semi a more efficient and sustainable method of transport, but its safety technology will save lives in one of the world’s most dangerous industries. In one of the most audacious programs in automotive history, Tesla has taken the ethos of disruption to heart and created a product capable of performing better than a traditional truck with a drastically reduced impact on the planet. Advances like these are a sign of the potential benefits that come from thinking beyond innovation for innovation’s sake: if our future highways are filled with fleets of Tesla Semi’s carrying our food to parts unknown, then we will know that we have succeeded in making the world a better place.
We are all aware of the advances in electric cars and transport, hybrid technologies and the search for alternative fuels, but we don’t often take note of the way that our actions in one sphere can affect the other. By developing a close collaboration between food, agriculture, energy, and mobility, we can truly begin the work of changing our global economy in a comprehensive and meaningful way. Now is the time to start thinking about the bigger picture, and to think of how we can work together. Our food system touches everyone, and everyone is affected by what powers our planet and moves us around it. These two areas are so closely linked that they are almost in the same family. Perhaps this is not such a stretch. After all, two of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs are brothers, and their specialties are telling: Elon Musk has revolutionized the way the world thinks about mobility, and his brother Kimbal Musk is a pioneer in sustainable agriculture and food innovation.
In Italian, we have a saying that often comes to mind when I think of these challenges: fare sistema. Just as we find strength in numbers by bringing great minds in food and ag tech together at Seeds&Chips, we must join forces with all of the sectors which interact with the food system on the road from farm to fork. I believe in a future where Tesla Semi’s will transport the incredible bounty of food that Italy has to offer, and that along the way they will stop at Enel-powered charging stations to complete their rounds. Through collaboration not only in food and ag tech but across sectors we can build tomorrow’s sustainability superhighway, where both what we move and how we move it are aligned towards a common goal of a better future.