Love Local – How sustainable are we, really?

This post is reposted from its original location:

How sustainable are we, really?

In this, the second post for Venture Southland’s ‘Get Connected’ newsletter (subscribe here) – we look at the difference between ‘less unsustainable’ and ‘strongly sustainable’, and try to explain where the food system fits within that sphere.

In all the talk about ‘sustainability’ there’s an underlying acceptance that’s not often identified, captured by these statements:

  • Talking about the need to become sustainable implies strongly that we are currently unsustainable (agreement on the degree differs wildly).
  • Unsustainable things cannot and do not continue indefinately.
  • There are better and worse activities that we can undertake going forward, which will make us less or more ‘unsustainable’.

The best visualisation of the difference between ‘less unsustainable’ and ‘strongly sustainable’ that I’m aware of is from Phase2’s ‘beyond the threshold’ tool:


More on this visualisation here:

In the above image, the activites that are more and less worthwhile (when viewed from the longer term perspective of a livable planet, given the evidence of the changes we currently effecting –, with continuing expansion of economic activity, to service unsustainable expansion of debt) become clearer. Before reading this next section, take a minute to reflect on where you are in relation to the graphic, and whether you’re okay with that. Also note that the next section states something that is true regardless of where you perceive we are currently in relation to the three stages described.

Searching for a concise way to sum this up, the best I’ve come across is the following 3 stages:

Period Doing With Comments:
Last 200 years More More Since the industrial revolution, rates of resource extraction could be economically increased, leading to increased material throughput in the economy and especially increased net energy use. It’s probable this has ended. Here’s why:
Where we are now More Less Whilst efficiency is important, there is only so much that it can achieve, whilst we continue to grow economic activity. This just delays the inevitable crash with physical resource limits, and will continue as long as we have to grow economic activity to service money created as debt.
What comes next Less Less In the future, it seems we face the need to contract economic activity to become ‘strongly sustainable’. De-coupling economic activity is a story that even Forbes magazine recognises as a myth…


So, within this context, why Love Local, why food? Clearly, just setting up a food hub as a ‘for benefit’ (i.e., not for profit) enterprise, distributing locally sourced (where possible) fruit and veges is not the whole answer. However, food is a really important source of CO2 and CO2e emissions and can be a really big part of the solution, particularly through increasing local resilience to enable our community to weather the coming changes.The following extract from the recently published ‘Disruptive Social Innovation for a Low Carbon World’ report gives a fuller picture:

“Transforming energy supply is perhaps the most direct path to low-carbon world, but reconstructing food systems follows closely in terms of importance. Industrial methods of food production and distribution, and wasteful or high-impact consumption practices, make food a focal point for any transition to a low-carbon world. Current practices are dominated by the use of carbon-intensive pesticides, fertilizers, oil-powered machinery, and plastic packaging, and the globalised food chain can mean that food often travels tens of thousands of kilometres to arrive on our plates. To make matters worse, it is estimated that, in Australia, more than $5 billion of food is thrown out every year (Baker, Fear, and Denniss, 2009). The result of all this is that food can be one of the most impactful aspects of modern life, with ecological footprint analyses estimating that food production and consumption accounts for around 28% percent of our ecological impact here in Victoria, Australia (EPA, 2008).

It follows that any transition to a sustainable society is going to require huge changes in our methods of food production and distribution, and our cultures of food consumption. Not only is food a critically important key to such a transition, it is often said that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, suggesting that food may be an important way to engage people about broader issues of social and ecological concern. In the absence of progressive government action, however, it again seems likely that the driver for change may have to come from the socio-cultural sphere.”


Part of the motivation to write these posts comes from my desire to “engage people about broader issues of social and ecological concern”. I’ll define the probable challenges / changes in a bit more detail in future articles, as well as how we hope Love Local will address these, but to get you thinking, have a look at the 5 general areas of risk that the ‘Wise Response’ appeal lists as being of concern:

1. Economic / Financial Security: the risk of a sudden, deepening, or prolonged financial crisis.

2. Energy and Climate Security: the risk of continuing our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.

3. Business Continuity: the risk exposure of all New Zealand business, including farming, to a lower carbon economy.

4. Ecological / Environmental Security: the risks in failing to genuinely protect both land-based and marine ecosystems and their natural processes.

5. Genuine Well-Being: the risk of persisting with a subsidised, debt-based inequitable economy, preoccupied with maximising consumption and GDP.

More info:

As a newcomer to Southland (I’ve been here about 3.5 years), I found it very encouraging to see the strength of community, and desire to support local business and community that exists. There is a strong identity that defines this region, which will be a huge asset to its resilience in the coming decades as change occurs to the global economy, energy supply and climate. It was pointed out to me that if my name is against these articles (not my idea!), people might like to know a little more about my background, so I offer this brief bio I wrote for another blog post ( recently:

Nathan Surendran is a chartered consulting engineer, entrepreneur, ‘big picture’ thinker with a passion for social justice via social enterprise and an advocate for strong sustainability. He is a founder of ‘Love Local Charitable Trust‘ – a social enterprise focused on food affordability and security. For more info, see his LinkedIn profile.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed / been challenged by / gained something from this post… More next month!

We’re posting links to various inspirational resources on our Facebook page at in the hope that this will inspire others to either get involved with us or start a complementary business themselves. If you found this article helpful, come and join us there for more links, and help us have a conversation about building resilient communities in Southland.

Contact info: email or call 03 928 5073

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