Sustainable food production and the art of expanding the ecosystem

Global food needs are increasing. In the short term, agriculture requires better conditions: in the long term we must transform how business is done for a sustainable society, such as through the provision of green service. We will even need services that can help to expand the ecosystem. These are the opinions of LiU researchers in business marketing.

The picture shows a system for satellite-based portioning of liquid fertilizer.  The picture shows a system for satellite-based portioning of liquid fertilizer. W.G. Hoogterp

The need for food will increase markedly in the coming decades, as a consequence of not only population growth but also changes in eating habits. Calculations carried out by the UN show that a significant increase in production is required to satisfy a growing population. We will need more grain products, but also more oilseed crops, sugar crops and meat.

Agriculture, which we need as guarantor for a sustainable food production, is, however, facing several major challenges: new, fertile agricultural land is hard to find, and the existing agricultural land in many places is under threat from, among other factors, the growth of urban areas. Moreover, climate change leads to both extreme drought and floods. In addition this the methods that have until now been used in agriculture to increase production are becoming increasingly questioned.

Innovative machinery and methods

“We know that shortages of food lead to war and uncertainty: that’s why we need a political agenda that gives agriculture better conditions. Sweden has advanced expertise in agriculture. We should invest in developing and exporting the innovative machinery and sustainable methods that are found in Swedish agriculture”, says Per Frankelius, researcher in business administration at LiU and process leader for the Agtech 2030 research and innovation initiative.

A digital plow, called i-Plow, that can be adjusted automatically from the cab.The significance of agriculture has been underestimated for many years. Now, however, we are facing real threats to food production, and it is vital that we invest in innovation, new crops, new methods of agriculture, and new methods for drying and storage.

“It is far too common that food is spoiled by mould or insects in storage”, says Per Frankelius.

Animal husbandry that is profitable and ecologically sustainable is also important for the production of food and natural fertiliser, and for a productive crop rotation that does not impoverish the soil. Sweden is a front runner in this field.

Green services

Four researchers at the Division of Business Administration at LiU have given us greater hope for the future. Hugo Guyader, Mikael Ottosson, Lars Witell and Per Frankelius have recently published an article in the Journal of Service Management.
They claim that it is at least as important to develop green services as green products. Some of the examples in the article are directly or indirectly related to food production, and the article presents data from several other industries.

The researchers suggest in the article that it is really time to take a step further: green service businesses should focus not only on reducing the negative impact of consumption on the environment, but they should also devote efforts to strengthen – indeed, to expand – the ecosystem. In other words, it is not about doing the same thing with less resources, but rather doing more with less resources.

Two examples from the article:
Transportation firm A wants to reduce its negative impact on the environment, and thus takes a number of measures to reduce fuel consumption. The drivers drive more gently and keep to the speed limits: the company purchases new vehicles with modern engines that conform to stringent emission limits, etc.
Transportation firm B invests in biogas-powered vehicles and not only reduces its own carbon footprint but also contributes to increasing the demand for renewable biogas, and this in turn stimulates the collection and sorting of waste. In addition to fuel, the production gives high-quality biological fertiliser that returns important nutrients to neighbouring arable land. In this way, transportation firm B has contributed to increasing the amount of sustainable resources.

Six R

The four researchers include a diversity of case studies from service-providing businesses, and the three Rs of resource management: reduce, reuse and recycle. They then argue for a further three Rs: redistributing (the shared use of, for example, cars), reframing (an example of which is the use of waste as a new resource in another system), and renewing (when natural resources are created or recreated by forming wetlands, planning meadow plants for meadows, etc.).
An extreme example of reframing is the construction of a unique opera stage, Dalhalla, on the waste dumps of a deserted lime quarry.

Two of the three new Rs, reframing and renewing, lead to extension of the ecosystem, and the researchers have identified profitable and thriving businesses illustrating all of the Rs.
They believe that by investing in services that transform society and our way of viewing things, we can sustainably increase the well-being of the ecosystem.

“We have seen several examples of proactive service businesses that have taken an additional step, from satisfying customer needs to being innovative and market transformers”, says Hugo Guyader.

Identifying the resource integration process of green service, Journal of Service Management, Hugo Guyader, Mikael Ottosson, Per Frankelius and Lars Witell, 2019.
DOI 10.1108/JOSM-12-2017-0350

Translated by George Farrants


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