Plant-Based Products: One Solution to Climate Change’s Problems?

Why issues like sustainability, climate change, animal welfare, lower carbon footprint, and responsible consumption, boost investments to social entrepreneurs of plant-based products / services solutions. 

Sagar Tandon | Saskia Tjokro

Editorial: INTRA

Sustainability is trending, that is for sure. However, as we emerge to the latter part of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitment from MDGs decades ago, the question remains: How to define sustainability?

Around the world, led by countries signing the Paris Climate Accord 2015, are chasing the goals. The follow ups are through: DFI fundings, INGOs long term campaigns, as well as UN bodies advocacies through its local offices in various countries. These, for UNDP for instance, donned through Climate Change taskforce, who coined lead initiatives related to lowering carbon footprint to later avoid 2 degrees Celsius rise on earth.

The trend was followed through by family offices and mainstream impact investors. Through the SDGs as main guidance, social and human related themes such as financial inclusion remains the most popular SDGs issue to be invested by. We heard so many impact investment activities, especially in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia; invested within the Grameen Bank theme: Banking the unbankable. This notion was nodded by one of Dutch big impact investors when the ANGIN team visited them last year (before pandemic!). The activities were and are profitable, the equity grew, thus, rarely needing another affirmative action to boost. (ANGIN, 2020)

Instead, the topic that is not discussed among  most impact investors is animal rights and the ethics of the social enterprises exploiting land and sea animals to create livelihoods, which are also included in SDGs, especially in emerging markets. More than that, most of the impact investors; including major DFIs, foundations, and philanthropists, have invested in seafood farming and animal agriculture across the world. In Indonesia, startups like e-fishery grabbed this opportunity as one of the first giving solutions to animal agriculture. 

As an impact investor and an animal rights activist, it concerns us a lot why we are still funding animal exploitation in the name of creating “social impact.”. Furthermore, calling the activities impact investing.There are strong arguments against investments in exploitative animal industries, which are not just limited to animal ethics, but also there are solid environmental, ethical, and health reasons:

  1. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
    2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef, and 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk. A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill. 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are for livestock. Over the 20th century, the zoomass of wildland animals halved, while the zoo-mass of humans and domesticated animals rose more than threefold, now outstripping the wild zoomass by 35 times.
  1. Halting the ever-expanding agri land use.
    Shifting away from animal-based foods could not only add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands, but would also significantly reduce carbon emissions and waste byproducts that end up in our oceans and as seafood byproducts (Jalava et al., 2014). The environmental imperative to reduce greenhouse gas production requires finding alternatives to animals in the supply chain, not only by shifting and innovating the way animal farming works, but to stop it entirely.
  1. Responsible consumption as it is.
    Seventy billion land animals and possibly 1 trillion marine animals are killed every year. The best part, according to the Sea Shepherd report through Ali Tabrizi 2020, these killings were done as collateral rather than to kill to actually feed us. For instance, for every bluefin tuna killed as food, there are 30 other animals killed as the result of byfishing (caught accidentally in the net). Another part, that the rise of salmon consumption which leads to the salmon farm boom in Norway has resulted in infectious disease among the farmed salmon, posing lower quality pink meat and bad salmon livelihood.  
  1. Animal agriculture poses a serious threat to public health.
    About 70% of the new diseases that have affected humans over the past 10 years (such as West Nile Virus) have originated from animals or products of animal origin. (European Food Safety Authority). This has yet to count the actual SARS virus and H1N1 virus outbreak that originated from birds and pork a decade ago.
  1. Animal farming is not green. 
    The animal farming industry is what it is: an industry. Consuming one farmed chicken’s carbon footprint equals to consuming 12 big plastic bags (WWF, 2019). That is equal to consuming 1200 pieces of plastic straws. The livestock sector plays a critical role in climate change and is estimated to represent 37 percent of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. On the other side animal agriculture accounts for 51% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent. In addition, emissions from animal agriculture could increase by 80% by 2050 based on current projections of population growth and dietary trends. 

Then we ask ourselves as an impact investor. Can we, the investors investing in impact, consider “animal rights” while investing? 

The sustainability and its connectivity to other issues above making it not about “can” anymore. It must be done. The issue here is more about what we need to do to make the transition work: where we start incorporating the animal rights aspect to each investment.

Some of the immediate concerns are the fact that the divestments from animal agriculture will affect the livelihoods of farmers. This is a legitimate concern. We need to find ways to resolve this dilemma – saving animal lives vs. taking livelihood opportunities for farmers. This is where every little transition counts.

A Kinder Economy

What would it look like for existing farmers? What could they do, and how social enterprises can help provide the solution? Such as utilizing the existing infrastructure of human capital, financial capital, farmland, etc; to make use of its function for a plant-based economy. A creation of employment, readjusting people into a newer kind of economy: a kinder economy.

  1. Meatpacking workers can pack plant-based burgers or nuggets. 

  2. Chicken and beef contract farmers can transition to grow hemp and mushrooms.
    Imagine if most farmers, who rely on the meat industry, don’t raise animals – they grow soy and corn for animal feed. Instead, these farmers can sell it to the growing plant-based companies that can use it as an ingredient to make alternate milk or meat substitute (protein). Or the farmers can switch to growing mung beans, peas, and oats, where there is a growing demand among plant-based companies to make soy-free and gluten-free products. 
  1. Dairy farmers can transition to making plant-based milk like soy, oats, or rice milk.
    For instance, the meat workers that work in big slaughterhouses or butcher houses can be transitioned to working in big plant-based manufacturing plants – packing burgers and nuggets – imagine – manufacturing plant of green rebel / Burgreens.

We can’t deny that many farmers currently rely on animal agriculture for livelihoods in developed and developing markets. In fact, one of the innovations from a government facilitated startup incubation in Indonesia 2021 has a solution in the form of IoT for chicken farming, to make chicken farming more cost effective and efficient. Which is problematic, as the world is moving towards consumption pattern deconstruction; while on the other side, we would like to do an appreciation shout to the FSI program under the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy with Ultra Indonesia focusing on plant based innovation. I remember ANGIN being one of the judges with my fellow plant based food supporter: the founder of Better Nature UK and Tempeh Movement Indonesia in the competition, where we both looked at each other thinking whether this ‘innovation competition’ was meant about the economy of today or eco-friendliness of tomorrow.

Though, I firmly believe, as an impact investing community, we need to bring various stakeholders together to smoothen the transition and make sure that it’s a win-win for the environment, animal welfare, and the farmers. In a recent piece by Vox, they covered this topic in greater detail. 

We are moving in the right direction

“Asia is home to over half of the world’s population and, as a result, faces the greatest threat in terms of food insecurity and its associated social, environmental, and economic challenges. Asia-based entrepreneurs are doing their part to address the growing need for meat, seafood, egg and dairy alternatives in the region, and are meeting local needs with products designed for Asian palates.”, The APAC Alternative Protein Industry Report 2021 

ANGIN has been actively looking at this space since its inception in Indonesia by leading investments in companies like Burgreen, which, when started in 2016, has a small and niche total addressable market. But with the growing environmental, health, and ethical concerns among Indonesians, we see robust adoption of plant-based food—currently, around ​​66 million Indonesian consumers of plant-based products. On the global level, companies like Tindle and Better Nature UK manage to ride the ‘kinder economy’ plant-based protein innovations.

With increasing consciousness among consumers, growing plant-based products, the impact investor community slowly and steadily waking up to the massive social, environmental, and economic potential of cruelty-free technologies to radically transition to an animal-exploitation-free world. 

Are you an impact investor considering investing in this? We would like to hear from you. Here is an excellent opportunity to learn more about plant-based and cultured meat by enrolling in the course by Good Food Institute

Click here to read the Bahasa Indonesia version

1 Indonesia’s Biodiversity Financing Report, UNDP 2020
3 World Watch Magazine, Volume 22, No. 6 
4 Nature. Vol. 515