Environmentally-friendly Nutrition:
changing food production and consumption


This challenge was introduced by Christine Merk, Researcher, IfW Kiel Institute for the World Economy 


Johan Rockström summarises the challenge nicely: “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sets targets for ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all. Food is central to achieving this ambitious agenda, as it lies at the heart of most of the 17 SDGs. Food systems are the main cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the main user of fresh water, the leading cause of biodiversity loss, the main driver of land-use change and the main cause behind human interference in biogeochemical cycles such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Nothing short of a global transformation of the food system will be needed to stand any chance of reaching all 17 SDGs. In short, if we get it right with food, we get it right with everything else.”


But where to start? For example in the EU regulations and subsidy systems for agriculture have grown over decades mostly in favour of large-scale industrialised farming and changes are heavily fought over. Food consumption in industrialised countries has a high CO2-footprint because we eat high amounts of animal protein and source our food from all around the world. Enormous amounts of food are thrown away before it reaches the shops, in the shops, and at home.


Even if people would like to eat healthily and more sustainably, they find it hard to break old habits and do things differently compared to what they have always done or to what everyone around them does. The challenge is to change consumption habits that are deeply rooted in our minds and our society and to prioritise sustainable agriculture.


How can we feed the world’s population which is projected to rise to 9 billion in 2050? Why are there still people who suffer from sustained hunger even though enough food is produced globally? How can we reduce food waste? What are the effects of large-scale vs small-scale farming on the environment? Do we need to eat meat to survive? Why is it difficult to make food production and consumption more sustainable?


Recommended literature


First things first: What are the Sustainable Development Goals?! Find out more (


And now more about food:


The Food and Agricultural Organization ( provides information, statistics, videos, reports and a lot more on both agricultural production and food consumption.


The World Resource Institute ( provides interesting graphs and statistics on how diets would have to shift to become sustainable.


The Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) researches the effect of eating animal products and climate change ( On their website you can also find an excellent comment by Johan Rockström (  (who works on the concept of planetary boundaries ( on the reasons why large-scale animal farming cannot be sustainable.


Recently, economics has started to pay attention to findings from psychology about how people’s behavior can be changed by nudges. You can read more about nudging in the book by Sunstein and Thaler (Sunstein, C., & Thaler, R. (2008). Nudge. The politics of libertarian paternalism. New Haven.).


The project Nahgast provides information on how to change production practices and food consumption patterns ( – they also have information on nudges.

    Region North


    Academic Partner

    The Kiel Institute is an international center for research in global economic affairs, economic policy consulting, and economic education.

    The Institute engages especially in creating solutions to urgent problems in global economic affairs. On basis of its research, the Institute advises decision makers in policy, business, and society and informs the broader public about important developments in international economic policy.

    As a portal to research in global economic affairs, the Kiel Institute has established a network of International Research Fellows that supports the worldwide awareness of the Institute’s activities and gives additional research impulses in form of scientific advice, joint research, and teaching stays in Kiel. The Institute lays a special focus on economic education and closely cooperates with the world’s largest library in economic and social sciences.

    The Kiel Institute has been partner of the YES! since 2015.