Sustainable Food Platforms: Enabling sustainable food practices through socio-technical innovation

(The project is funded by the H2020 ERA-NET COFUND and SUSFOOD2)

The Problem

Estimates show that the global food system contributes to about 20-30% of the total global GHG emissions. Food consumption is at the heart of the food regime, as consumer choices significantly influence the use of resources and environmental effects of production, distribution, and consumption. The choices consumers make in terms of their food consumption is connected to the ways in which their food is provided to them. With the technical advances of the last decade as well as the increase in consumer driven food supply, new platforms of food provisioning have emerged that may represent significant opportunities to enable and upscale sustainable food consumption.

As of now, little is known about the potential of these platforms to promote sustainable food consumption on a larger scale. Consumers may now purchase their food from online food retailers, box schemes, farmers markets or indeed, from other consumers. Each food provisioning system or platform presents consumers with unique choices. This new range of food provision has emerged from both e-commerce development and consumer-driven food provisioning. However, very little is known about the impact of these new platforms on food choices and whether they represent new opportunities to promote sustainable food practices in the home.

The Aim 

PLATEFORMS aims to produce in-depth knowledge on how food practices in the home are affected by new innovations in food provisioning platforms. These innovations may be social (e.g. urban gardening, buying clubs, food cooperatives) or technical (e.g. online supermarket/niche store, box schemes, sharing apps). This project takes a socio-technical practice approach, viewing consumption in all its phases of planning, provisioning, storing, cooking, eating, and disposing. The focus is on these practices as performed in the home rather than on individual choices. The project will include both business-driven platforms (e.g. supermarkets/ online stores) and consumer-driven platforms (e.g. food cooperatives) in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Ireland.

The main aims of the project are to:

  1. Produce a catalogue of contemporary European sustainability initiatives related to modes of food provisioning
  2. Explore how socio-technical innovations in food provisioning platforms can drive/facilitate sustainable food consumption in households
  3. Suggest strategies to implement and emphasize drivers of sustainability in this context
  4. Examine the possibility of scaling up these sustainable food consumption platforms

The Impact

How can we contribute to sustainable food consumption? The project will promote sustainable food choices through involvement with platform owners and communicating findings and sustainable success stories across countries and platforms. We will share our findings with platform owners, policy makers and NGOs responsible for ensuring sustainable food systems. By producing new in-depth knowledge about how to enable sustainable food consumption via the use of new socio-technical innovations in food provisioning, the project will enable sustainable food practices among consumers on a larger scale.

Task 1: Mapping Platforms of Food Provisioning

The objective of task 1 is to map and classify digital platforms in terms of their sustainable food provisioning, their main features, and innovative practices in the five countries under investigation. In doing so, we will:

  • Analyse digital food platforms in the concerned countries to shed light on their approaches to sustainability, on their key technical and organizational characteristics, and on innovative food provisioning mechanisms.
  • Describe the profile of users of digital platforms by collecting information on their socio-economic characteristics, motivations and practices.

Task 2: Inside Households: Sustainable Practices 

The objective of task 2 is to produce in-depth knowledge on how socio-technical innovations in food provisioning platforms enable and drive households´ sustainable food consumption practices. This task will involve interviewing 40 households in each of the 5 countries. In doing so, we will:

  • Understand how digital and physical innovations in business and consumer driven food provision platforms shape households’ food consumption practices making them more sustainable.
  • Understand under what economic, social, cultural and technical conditions different business and consumer driven physical and digital food platform innovations work to promote sustainability change in practices.
  • Understand how these sustainability changes in household food consumption practice can be stabilized and scaled up.

Task 3: Household and Platform Interventions

The objective of task 3 is to enhance knowledge about how new platforms of food provisioning affect the sustainability of households’ food practices. This task will involve an intervention with 20 of the 40 original households in each of the 5 countries. In doing so, we will:

  • Understand how changing platforms of food provisioning affects the sustainability of households’ food practices.
  • Understand how marketing activities such as labelling, information, and promotion on new digital platforms can affect the sales in a sustainable direction.