Can the Netherlands lead the way in how the world eats protein?

Dutch food probably doesn’t conjure up images of very healthy eating. Lots of cheese, stroopwafels, chocolate sprinkles on bread, fried meat-based snacks and fries drowned in mayonnaise. And yet, the Netherlands might just be the country to lead the way to new eating patterns that are healthier for both people and the planet. In the past years, there have been many initiatives by the public and private sector. All working to encourage people to eat healthier with more plant-based protein. But as food patterns are probably the most deeply ingrained of all, this is no easy feat!

The complicated value(s) chain of protein

Did you know that 40% of plants grown in the world are fed to animals? Of the soy grown in the world, that percentage is even higher, 85%. The visual to the right shows the complicated and interconnected food chain for protein. It comes from the Protein Challenge 2040 by Forum for the Future. Simon Billing of Forum for the Future said: “It’s undeniable that protein is an indispensable part of the human diet, but the way we produce and consume it today presents many challenges – both in terms of global consumption patterns as well as their social, environmental and economic impacts.” It’s clear that doing a bit better on food productivity or food waste isn’t going to be enough, we really need to change the way we eat.

For centuries, the Netherlands has been leading in the area of agriculture. Perhaps not Dutch cuisine, but cows, potatoes, and cheese, as well as agricultural expertise, are important export products for the Netherlands. With many interesting initiatives underway, the Netherlands is well-placed to be a catalyst for positive change in the transition to plant-based protein.  Supported by the Dutch government and knowledge partners, a group of forward-thinking food companies joined to form the Green Protein Alliance, a coalition dedicated to progressing the protein transition. In February 2017, they launched the Green Protein Growth Plan with the objective to reduce the animal protein percentage from 63% in 2015 to 50% in 2025.

On the same day, Minister for Agriculture Martijn van Dam launched the New Food Challenge. The goal of this challenge is to increase the number of new healthy products offered in food retailers. Based on plant protein, which is not just better for people, but also better for the planet. The New Food Challenge will invest €1.8 million in product ideas from new and existing companies; ideas driving a change in eating patterns by making plant-based protein more attractive.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has convened a coalition of Dutch companies and NGOs to contribute to the global transition to more plant-based protein. What’s so interesting about this specific CSR-covenant that it is designing this relatively new sector in a sustainable way from the start. First-time-right, as opposed to various other CSR covenants, which have to reshape and redesign existing industries and therefore often raises quite some resistance from the parties with vested interests in the old systems. The international CSR-covenant for plant-based protein is expected to be signed in March 2017.

Changing the way we eat - for health and planet

Great to have so many public and private parties working together, but in the end, will we eat it? Last but not least on the list of interesting institutional initiatives is the Netherlands Nutrition Center. This government-funded institution encourages consumers to develop healthier and more sustainable eating habits and advises the food industry to produce a more sustainable range of food products. In 2015, it overhauled its food advice (the wheel of five). The key change is to reduce the intake of animal products and to include more plant-based protein.

We all know that people won't simply change their eating habits because a government agency tells them that this is better for them. The real challenge, perhaps, is fought on the high street, in the supermarkets. How do you encourage people to try new products that are better for them and the planet? Plant-based protein does not sound too tasty, so we'll have to find other ways. Amsterdam-based market research company Motivaction identified two kinds of shoppers who are more likely to buy plant-based protein products. The conscious quality shoppers want to progress to a more plant-based diet and are quite knowledgeable. To market to them, build on their existing knowledge and inspire them with real stories. The impulsive comfort shoppers are eager to try appealing new products. To market to them, make plant-based foods exciting, luxurious and easy to use. Manufacturers of plant-based protein products must know some of this already. In 2016, the market showed double-digit growth and this is just the beginning!

Top tips to contribute to the protein transition

From the varied initiatives above, it does look like the Netherlands has a reason to be a confident leader in the transition to a more plant-based diet. Here are our top tips to join the movement, wherever you're from!

  • Explain positively how plant-based protein fit into everyone's daily life. For most people, this probably will avoid the words plant-based protein, but rather focus on other benefits like health, flavor, innovation and for some, perhaps, the environment.
  • Convince clearly that plant-based protein is a healthy option for everyone.
  • Share knowledge within the sector to really progress the green protein growth plan
  • Activate together, joining forces with public and private parties, inside and outside the sector - for positive change!

Written by Leontine Gast (@theterraceNL) and Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis) for The Terrace and Changeincontext.com blogs. Mostly inspired by the content of the Green Protein Alliance event held on February 16, 2017. To stay up to date on other events and The Terrace activities, please subscribe to our newsletter. 


Top tips to cut the crap: tips to help you and your organisation improve reporting

In the last decade, transparency and corporate reporting progressed tremendously, allowing society access to performance information that is usually not available in financial reports. Sustainability (or non-financial) reporting enable stakeholders – like investors, regulators, employees, NGOs, communities, partners, etc. – access to information about a company’s social, environmental and economic impacts, directly from the source.

But it’s not all good news from the reporting field, as many sustainability reports still consist of a hundred (or more) pages, difficult to navigate and to extract what matters. Many look just like glossy magazines and some even offer the same shallow content. They often present an overly positive, distorted picture of reality. They risk being considered greenwashing and useless for people intending to use the information to take decisions. Or to evaluate the readiness of an organization’s management to deal with social and environmental issues.

So ... it's time to cut the crap!

High-quality reports are clear, balanced, and focused on key issues. Corporate reports that are difficult to navigate, overly positive and/or unfocused do more damage than good for a company’s reputation. When not clearly showing the efforts, dilemmas, and results in tackling concrete societal issues, such reports just add to the overwhelming amount of useless information that surrounds us nowadays.

The European Union Directive on Non-Financial Reporting requires thousands of companies to start integrating sustainability topics to their annual reporting cycle, from the 2017 report onwards. This is a great opportunity for all involved in corporate reporting to make a step towards better reports. Cutting the crap in reporting helps experienced and new reporters generate more focused reporting. It improves the quality and reduces the cost of reporting - just what you need!

Here are our tips on how to cut the (reporting) crap!

Charming, but irrelevant

Reporting is not a beauty contest. Sustainability reporting standards, such as those provided by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), do not require a specific design or format. These standards offer guidance on how to prepare high-quality content. Well-organized, clear information is what really counts. If in addition, you want to make it look pretty and the visuals support clarity and navigation, that’s great. But well-structured, relevant content comes first. Always.

Random and unfocused

Don’t get distracted! Create focus through materiality analysis, an important step in the process to create a high-quality sustainability report. It helps to define the topics to focus on to sustain the company’s future in connection to society’s needs. These topics are selected by combining management’s strategic vision with inputs from strategic stakeholders’ representatives like employees, clients, regulators, and communities.

If done well, the analysis generates a focused, short list of topics that expresses the issues of high concern for society directly related to the strategy and core business activities. Once you have your material topics list, you are ready to think about which indicators (and other disclosures) best help you to tell your report readers what the organization is striving for and achieving on these topics. That’s it! These topics are the only ones you need to include in your report.

Annoyingly abundant

Don’t add extra information. Basic details about the organization – such as company size, the number of employees, markets where it operates, the location of the headquarters - as well as indicators related to material topics have to be included. Nothing more, nothing less.

Check the list of basic information to be disclosed, find the information required, organize it and present it in the clearest way you can. No tricks, no misleading. And if you can’t report on a required disclosure for some reason, explain why not. It’s really that simple.

Don’t add unnecessary information, even if it makes the organization look good. A report needs to balanced; the challenges and dilemmas should not be buried in strategically irrelevant content. Excess of information – even when presented in a beautiful way – can be quite detrimental to your reputation.

Poorly planned and costly

Gathering high-quality information isn’t cheap. Financial and human resources are needed to determine the units, the boundaries, the process, as well as for the systems for actual collection, aggregation, checks, approvals, and analysis of the data.

Preparing a good roadmap of what exactly has to be reported not only increases the quality of the report but also helps you make the best use of your valuable resources. Define a clear owner for the reporting process, if necessary supported by experienced outside professionals. Such as people with specific expertise on reporting, sustainability communications, etc. Good planning and ‘cutting the crap’ reduces the costs even more in case you’re involving an external service provider to assure the sustainability content of your report.

These tips can help you and your organisation improve reporting - and reduce costs - by progressing from:

  • Charming to clear
  • Random to relevant
  • Abundant to accurate
  • Poorly planned to professional

In times like these, when critical, well-informed decisions are needed, we can’t let useful information go to waste. Don’t bury your company’s impact and performance on key topics in the cacophony of useless information that surrounds us every day.

Join our campaign to cut the crap!

This blog is co-authored by Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace and Nelmara Arbex of Arbex & Company. It also appeared on www.changeincontext.com and www.arbexandcompany.com