Personal Impact Assessment: ourselves and our world

We are so close to the red line that we may wake up tomorrow and discover there is nothing left to save. — Maneka Gandhi, former Indian Environment Minister

I was at the Sustainable Unconference in San Francisco two weeks ago and someone asked me, “If the future of the world depended on you, what would you do?” Such an easy question to ask but such a hard answer to give. Honestly, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I got to see this short video, and again I had the confirmation of how much data and data visualisation have the potential to educate and drive human behaviour.

The video reminded me of crucial statistics. Every second, a football field of rainforest is destroyed to produce 257 hamburgers. One hectare of land can produce potatoes for 22 people, rice for 19 people, lamb for two people, or beef for one person. Sixteen pounds of grain are needed to produce 1 pound of meat, while every 2.3 seconds someone dies of hunger in the world.

Education is the first step. If we want to properly assess the impact that our daily choices produce on our environment (both large and small) we need to be able to understand and compare the consequences of our actions. I don’t believe in taking a radical position. I believe in awareness in order to strike a balance among personal taste, environmental impact and personal wellbeing. Impact awareness is the only way to constantly adjust our actions for a better balance.

This is valid for countries, for cities, for families, for companies and for individuals. We all need to assess in order to understand and improve.

That’s why I’m so proud of the remarkable work that has been done so far by the BCFN Foundation and The Economist in developing the Food Sustainability Index (FSI). It ranks 25 countries according to their food system sustainability using a quantitative and qualitative benchmarking model. It is based on 58 indicators that measure the sustainability of food systems across three pillars: food loss and waste; sustainable agriculture; and nutritional challenges. France, Japan and Canada turned out to be the best performing. Italy is at the 6th place, the US at the 11th.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, with the BCFN Foundation, has also initiated a pilot project on urban food systems. This indicator-level analysis is called City Monitor. It is intended to be a first step in assembling a set of indicators to understand the dynamics of urban food systems through data and policy assessments. In this pilot, 16 cities were selected and analysed based on (among others) urban green areas, cycling routes, child and adult obesity rates, processed food index and eating out index.

My point here is that we can change our habits and behaviours as individuals and as larger communities. What we all need are tools helping us to understand what we should change and why, like those developed by BCFN Foundation and The Economist to help assess progress and define benchmarks and goals.

So, if I revisit that initial question, If the future of the world depended on you, what would you do? I would advocate for personal impact awareness and the development of tools to make individual and collective actions better understood in terms of environmental impact and sustainability. I would want to help encourage people to see how they can make a difference for a healthier self and healthier earth, which is exactly what I hope Feat can achieve through food and wellness education.