Butterfly effect: multipliers of change
This week, I was invited to speak at the annual convention of young entrepreneurs in my region, and the theme of the event was the “butterfly effect.”
An interesting title that really got me thinking.
First of all, it made me reflect on the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly, a transformation that is as necessary as it is painful, but capable of generating a true miracle. A metaphor that could well represent the historical moment that humanity is living.
According to the butterfly effect, theorized by mathematician Edward Lorenz, the simple wing flap of this small insect today can generate immense consequences for tomorrow. Like other species, they also participate in the preservation of Italian ecosystems, and a single butterfly may be able to produce a change that could affect our future.
At the same time, each one of us, regardless of role, geographical position, expertise, culture, or age, can represent a fundamental multiplier effect of change. Each one of us, more or less consciously, can create a butterfly effect, influencing the market, supporting sustainable production, distribution, and process models. From the recipes we choose to the products we buy in supermarkets, from restaurants to schools, all these choices generate an impact on the food system and society.
It is from the choice of how to spend every single euro that the world we live in is built. The choices that each of us makes every day are crucial to support agri-food models that are not only sustainable but also regenerative for the environment, the landscape, and the social fabric, leading the consumer to drive real change in production systems from below.
Let’s think about the case of palm oil: it was thanks to the mass action of consumers and their refusal to buy products containing it that generated a massive change in the production of many food products.
Faced with an economy undergoing profound change, even companies cannot remain anchored to outdated economic models. For this reason, companies and businesses today are required to contribute to social and environmental regeneration, to show authenticity, integrity, and transparency. It is no coincidence that an exponential number of B-Corporation certified companies are emerging, new business models capable of combining purpose and profit. Considering and assessing the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, communities, and the environment is the central requirement for putting people and the environment back at the center of their actions.
Agri-food systems and the impacts they generate in terms of nutritional, environmental, social, economic, and health consequences are at the center of geopolitical, diplomatic, and institutional balances. From food, or rather from the lack of adequate access to food, we are witnessing massive environmental migrations. The use of food is linked to activities of unregulated land grabbing and expropriation of local communities, as is happening on the African continent and Latin America, often “used” as mere areas of food production for communities and animals residing on the other side of the globe. Food is not only survival and life, but it is also the result of traditions, cultures, history, and identity.
In addition to individual choices and the role of production companies, there are also political decisions. Europe, thanks to the Green Deal manifesto, specific strategies and the climate action plan, is showing leadership in guiding the ecological transition. Setting clear and precise criteria is undoubtedly the first step to translate the ambitious goals contained within the Paris Climate Agreement into concrete actions. At the same time, it is not possible to think of positive and lasting results without considering the complexity and infinite interconnections that criss-cross agrifood systems, from the actors that mark the value chain of food, from its production to its consumption and disposal. There are many actions to be taken.
First of all, it is crucial to reduce intensive farming within the European Union. The complexity of market rules requires uniformity of sustainability criteria. Considering that the EU depends on the import of agricultural products from other countries, it is not possible to imagine strict environmental standards limited to importing countries without creating dangers of outsourcing environmental damage, especially when these countries are governed by environmental laws less strict than European ones.
Secondly, it is necessary to implement an EU Common Food Policy to support and complement the current Common Agricultural Policy. Because a simple agricultural policy does not embrace the complexity of the food context and the diversity of European food systems. We need new models of governance that are participatory and inclusive. We need to take into account historical, environmental, climatic, and social peculiarities, and preserve the beauty of human, social and environmental diversity, which is the true added value of effective and efficient government policies.
To do this, it is necessary to expand opportunities for exchange, dialogue, and participation among various stakeholders, creating bridges between institutions and young activists, between experts and students, between small and medium-sized enterprises, startups and large corporations, to propose solutions that are modeled to the concrete challenges of the territory and society. Investing in processes of participation and inclusion that are integrated from start to finish is crucial. We must encourage climate-efficient solutions, capable of preserving biodiversity, soils and those who take care of them will only be beneficial if at the same time current unsustainable conduct is punished and banned.
Finally, we need to reawaken and rediscover dormant resources: natural, landscape, and territorial wealth, not to mention the historical and cultural heritage we have inherited from the past. Glocal approaches, which enhance the short supply chain, an important engine for regenerating the local economy, are proving to be effective models, able to ensure greater resilience and adaptation to frequent external variables, whether environmental, social, or economic.
Society today demands trust. In a world overloaded with information and news, more than knowledge there is a need for wisdom and beauty. Forcing a one-size-fits-all solution, applicable and repeatable in every context, is the biggest mistake our society could make today. To strive for a real and total ecological transition, we need to embrace the complexity that characterizes the ecosystem as a whole, a challenge that alone, within our bubbles of vertical specialization, we could not solve. This year we have the opportunity to make a difference by bringing real dialogue back into this year’s crucial appointments, such as the G20 and COP 26, demanding a more rich diversity of representation, ready for a positive inclusion of experience and expertise. No action and no choice is without an impact, even if minimal, on the environment, society, or economy. Sometimes it is just a matter of balancing the costs with the real benefits. Our choices, our actions, and our balances today will be judged for their effects in the coming decades by our children.
The Future Food Institute is an international social enterprise that believes climate change is at the end of your fork. By harnessing the power of its global ecosystem of partners, innovators, researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs, FFI aims to sustainably improve life on Earth through transformation of global food systems.
By training the next generation of changemakers, empowering communities, and engaging government and industry in actionable innovation, FFI catalyzes progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).