How our new Environment Strategy will Make GAIN Greener
When we launched GAIN’s new Environment Strategy internally in March 2021, it quickly became clear that protecting the planet is a cause that carries huge significance for GAIN staff, for a whole host of different reasons.
Some colleagues took inspiration from the natural beauty of the world around them, from the stunning savannahs of Tanzania and rolling highlands of Kenya through to the incredible diversity of India and the lakes and mountains of Geneva. Others recalled nature and wildlife documentaries from childhood that left a decades-long impression, or the genuine fear of watching – with increasing frequency – news reports from around the world about environmental disasters that threaten the lives, livelihoods and prosperity of present and future generations.
And these issues are beginning to affect our work in a very tangible way. Extreme weather events, natural disasters, floods, droughts and even COVID-19 itself put huge new obstacles in our path as we strive to fulfil our mission of ensuring access to safe, nutritious diets for all. We need to identify, understand and mitigate these environmental risks if we want to have any chance of achieving SDG2.
Of course, we are all very aware of the role that food systems play in causing some of these issues, as well as the impacts that climate change will continue to have on nutrition security, health, lives and livelihoods in years and decades to come.
It was also clear that GAIN colleagues are united in a will to do whatever we can, on both a personal and organisational level, to tackle the mounting challenges that face us. Although these challenges are seemingly huge, we took inspiration from the story of the hummingbird, presented here by Kenyan environmental activist, Wangari Maathai. We know that fundamental, collective, systematic change is needed to protect our planet, and that GAIN must play its part – doing the best we can to improve our environmental footprint.
And so, building on this strong base of shared commitment, our Environment Strategy lays out our approach to taking action and making meaningful change. It’s built on three main pillars:
Working in partnership
The first pillar to that strategy is founded in self-awareness: we specialise in nutrition interventions, and that is where our expertise lies. Although we are now building our internal capacity with new hires and efforts to increase our collective knowledge, we absolutely recognise the need to work in partnerships with leaders in environmental protection and regeneration. One such partnership, with the World Wide Fund for Nature, was in evidence in November 2021 as we attended COP26 together to present a united vision for food systems transformation that brings benefits for both human and planetary health. This exciting collaboration sets the tone for a new perspective at GAIN, as we look to incorporate environmental sustainability into our individual, operational and programmatic thinking. We are also proud to be a founding member of FOLU, the Food and Land Use Coalition, through which we are exploring work at the nexus of food and environment in four GAIN countries – Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, and Kenya. Our work to support and enable youth leaders in the food systems space through Act4Food Act4Change also adopts a strong stance on protecting nature.
This partnership is not only a stake in the ground. It is also an example of our second pillar in action: furthering knowledge. Learning from experts, we are expanding our understanding of sustainable diets, creating a new set of environmental guidelines to help all GAIN staff to assess and reduce the environmental impact of our work, and increasing our focus on research that will inform our interventions. Through improved knowledge and understanding, we’ll attempt to focus on projects that bring both nutritional and environmental benefits. We’ll also become more aware of the trade-offs that may arise, and find new ways to mitigate potential harms.
Sharing and communicating
The third pillar to our strategy is about proactive sharing and communication. Through our prominent position in the nutrition community and participation in major global events, not least the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit and the upcoming Nutrition for Growth Summit, we also intend to disseminate knowledge on the linkages between food systems and the environment, engaging all stakeholders in this crucial topic. For example, building on the findings of Project Disrupt, our brand-new Innovative Food System Solutions portal seeks to highlight innovations that benefit people and planet. Our continued efforts will show how food affects climate, the environment, health systems, and development, and how food systems interventions can positively affect planetary health. Equally, we’ll pay close attention to how environmental factors affect food systems and nutrition – especially as the impacts of climate change on lives, livelihoods, economies, production systems and nutrient intakes become more apparent.
Of course, working in partnerships to generate and mobilise knowledge on sustainable food systems, engaging in advocacy, and raising awareness of the undeniable, intrinsic relationship between food systems and the environment will only be half of the story. In parallel, we intend to practise what we preach.
Our fourth and final pillar is reducing our own environmental footprint. We have already made significant strides with our operational footprint: reducing travel and updating our policy to favour more environmentally friendly transport choices, scoping a carbon offsetting scheme, and introducing a whole array of internal activities to Green our Offices. Led by Focal Points in every GAIN location, we have already begun reducing waste, paper, water and energy use, avoiding single-use plastics, improving recycling, increasing composting, tackling 'digital waste' and encouraging individual sustainable behaviour in our day-to-day lives, even while working from home (as many of us still currently are).
The bigger challenge, and focus of our current efforts, will be analysing, developing and testing programmatic approaches that have environmental sustainability at their core. Work in this area is already underway. For example, an academic assessment of the environmental impacts of large-scale food fortification programme has been carried out, making the case for LSFF as a sustainable nutrition intervention. And many of our other programmes (such as the Post-Harvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition and Commercialisation of Biofortified Crops) are also based on the inherent linkages between sustainability and nutrition. We hope that by building the evidence on integrated approaches, we can inspire others to join us on this journey.
Our Environment Strategy is designed to engage every member of GAIN staff across all of our offices, and to extend to the way we approach our programmes and the partners we choose to work with. Our Environmental Working Group and Country Focal Points, consisting of over 40 members around the world, will lead from the front – but with a focus on creating the tools, resources and systems that enable organisational change.
We live by the mantra of Making GAIN Green, and we can already see the momentum building. While we know this is only a first step, and that we have a lot to learn, we are excited by this leap forward. As we count down to 2030, we invite all of our partners to join us in this commitment to integrate environmental considerations into everything that we do. Like the hummingbird, let us all do the best we can.