Where collaboration, innovation, partnership, and health come together

Written by Dr. Elizabeth Baca and Stephanie Fisher, interviewing Renske Lynde, co-founder of Food System 6

 

The Global Climate Action Summit is about looking at climate risks before us, but realizing that we still have time to change the course of this existential threat while reaping a myriad of social, economic and environmental benefits for current and future generations. In a recent blog  I spoke about the need for a new approach, “If we’re going to solve climate change, we need a new way of thinking.” There was a lot of interest from the community to more deeply explore some of the innovators highlighted in the blog who are moving beyond problem statements and into innovative solutions, particularly as it relates to health, and we will be doing a series of blog interviews leading up to the summit to feature these innovative leaders.

Innovative solutions are particularly necessary as we think about the complexities of the food system that spans production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. As a society, we have progressed through five types of food systems –starting from hunting and gathering techniques, to our current practices of food industrialism. Our current food system, however, is marked with many detriments to our environment and our health. Fixing the food system is also an important part of the solution when it comes to climate change and one of the challenge areas for the summit,  .

One problem is food waste.  The food wasted each year adds up to more than 4 billion tons of carbon. Additionally, food waste emits methane, a green house gas 80 times stronger than CO2 over a 20-year period. This food waste happens at the same time that many communities struggle with food insecurity. Additionally, creating access to healthy foods in the food system and supporting increased consumption of healthy diets including grains, fruits, and vegetables are important for sustainability and health.

These cascading effects of an unsustainable food system highlight the need for holistic, interdisciplinary thinking to combat the challenge.  For this first spotlight, we sat down with Renske Lynde.  Dedicated to fostering a new, sustainable, healthy food system, Lynde co-founded Food System 6 (FS6): a non-profit accelerator dedicated to helping entrepreneurs transform the way food is grown, produced, and distributed. FS6 is working to build a food system optimized to integrate environmental, physical, and social health.

Innovation and Partnership

Food System 6 started from a collaborative brainstorming session to think about how to reach policy goals with a systems-thinking approach integrating considerations of equity, health, environment, and economic sustainability.  An unlikely group of sustainability experts, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, health system leaders, foundations, and government leaders including the USDA and the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research gathered for a first meeting to brainstorm on what is possible to achieve policy goals for healthy communities.

Renske Lynde explains, “There needed to be a center of gravity and independent platform that could leverage the resources, capacity, and skills it was really rooted in something bigger than the sum of parts that we represented in that room.  The idea was, ‘how do we create something to serve as a platform and help support innovative ideas no matter where they come from.’”

An organization like FS6 requires a breadth of resources and perspectives in order to support healthy food system innovations, no matter where they may come from. Innovation is the DNA of the organization as well as a cross-sector perspective, “We certainly hold as one of our guiding principles as an organization that innovation is everywhere.”

To cultivate these innovations, FS6 offers a wide range of business and organizational support to promising companies.  Small cohorts of for-profit and non-profit innovators complete an intensive 16 week program; providing them the skills and holistic perspective of the food system to maximize their impact.  FS6 also offers networking and consulting services to other constituents, including corporations, foundations, college and universities, governments, and investors.

“We don’t work in isolation, in part because that’s just not how we think. We’re systems thinkers and system designers because that just reflects the reality of a living, breathing, ecological system”

Financially supporting these innovations also requires a novel approach. To help scale the impact these entrepreneurs want to have, Lynde notes that they require a very different kind of capital stack. In addition, FS6 incorporates different aspects of traditional finance investment and more experimental philanthropic approaches. “There’s a lot that’s happening in the ecosystem around financing in general,” says Lynde, “and the kinds of companies we work with are so well suited for that kind of integrated approach to thinking about what their finances look like.”

Solutions for Health and Climate Co-benefits

In order to effectively work towards a sustainable food system, Food System 6 also recognizes its relationship to health.

We see a direct correlation in relationship to the health of our plants and the health of our food, being more nutrient dense.  For us, it really is all part of the same picture.”

Also included in FS6’s portfolio, many entrepreneurs are working to address food system challenges on the consumer side.

“We have a number of different companies that are working either to bring healthy consumer products to the market place, or organizations who are actively working in the spaces and places where people are interacting with their food. Primarily in the school food environment.”

FS6’s partnerships with important health entities, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also help these new companies evaluate their health impact. This becomes difficult, however, since the impacts are complex to track in early stages –leaving companies to rely on predictive analytics. These difficulties also arise when these entrepreneurs consider their greenhouse gases impact.

This is all super challenging right now, and there’s a number of important thought leaders that are trying to figure out how we can help these early stage start-ups define their impacts as they’re still growing and making necessary pivots as they iterate.”

While there are still many challenges for organizations like FS6 to address, Lynde expresses her excitement for the goals and opportunities generating from the upcoming Summit.  She notes the significant strides made by major food companies as they think about the impact their interventions have on the larger food system.  “We are seeing the incorporation of a holistic perspective on the food system: one that connects the dots between production, soil health, and climate change.”

Additionally, two of the other companies within FS6’s portfolio are addressing food waste in novel ways.

Full Cycle Bioplastics transforms food waste into a plastic packaging alternative that’s biodegradable, marine compostable.  Lynde states, “They are a really important company in that they are tackling two of the biggest challenges of our time, both food waste and plastic pollution.”

Renewal Mill turns the byproducts of tofu production into a flour alternative.  It is currently being used for baked goods, and is more nutritious and fiber rich than white flour.  “That’s another company looking at closed loop solutions,” Lynde continues. These are the type of innovative solutions needed to solve current food production and health challenges.

There appears to be, and I believe there’s good evidence that there’s a new way of thinking emerging that is more entrepreneurial that is willing to push the bounds of what is possible.”

We look forward to hearing the commitments and connections organizations like FS6 create in September.  Be on the lookout for the next spotlight in this series, as we continue to explore the innovations in climate change and health.

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