What are the most important questions around business practice that, if answered, could help companies manage their dependencies and impacts upon food, energy, water and the environment?
Nexus2020, led by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, brings together business, academics, policy makers and civil society to determine the most important questions that need to be answered around food, energy, water and the natural environment to inform business practice.
Dr Bhaskar Vira from the University of Cambridge gave an update on the Nexus2020 project at the Nexus Network conference on 19 November 2015. Read the summary here (downloads pdf) Nexus2020 Summary for NexusNetwork Conference
The output from Nexus2020 has been submitted to an academic journal and we hope that this will be published in 2016.
What is the nexus and what are the issues?
Food, water, energy and the natural environment are intimately interwoven and impacts upon one can affect the others. This ‘nexus’ of interactions defines how our decisions affect society around us. How, then, do we deliver enough food for more people but with less water? How do we meet increasing demand for energy without exacerbating climate change? And how do we maintain healthy water supplies that provide enough to meet our needs for drinking water, agriculture and energy production? Crucially, how do we meet these demands without degrading the natural environment that these very services depend upon?
With a growing population and individuals, on average, consuming more we are seeing increased demand and competition for water, energy and food. Pressures on natural resources and the accompanying impact on the natural environment look set to increase in many areas. Understanding the trade-offs, win-wins and prioritisation of food, energy, water and the environment (the ‘nexus’) may help to answer these questions.
Why should business consider this nexus?
Businesses operate in this nexus of food, energy, water and the environment and are often at the sharp end of the trade-offs needed to meet the demand of consumers. There are opportunities that can be harnessed for businesses by considering the nexus in which the operate.
Some are actively managing this nexus: the utility companies that provide our water and energy and the farmers and retailers who face increasing challenges to grow and source food in an environmentally sound and sustainable way whilst dealing with fierce competition for customers. Other businesses might be critically dependent upon water and energy, but must compete with other users. However, many enterprises are also degrading the natural environment and the processes that provide these services.
Pollution and unsustainable resource use are often driven by commercial pressures. But do we always know how to meet societies’ demand for food or energy without, for example, degrading our natural environment or water supplies? What more do we need to know in order to ensure sustainable enterprise? Industry and business depend upon and impact the nexus and are at the heart of this puzzle.
We need to identify and address their impacts and dependencies to enable us to operate within the limits of natural systems. Moreover, we need to start soon.
The most important questions around business practice that, if answered, could help companies manage their dependencies and impacts upon food, energy, water and the environment.
The best questions are likely to be those that consider more than one of the elements that make up the nexus and the answers can form part of a practical response to securing a sustainable supply of food, energy and water without degrading our natural environment.
Identifying the top questions
The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership brought together leading members of the academic and business communities in September 2015 to identify from all the submissions the top most important questions for research. The team identified the gaps in knowledge that we most urgently need to address in the near term to secure our longer term futures.
Businesses and academics will work together to assess our knowledge needs and push the research priorities towards those that are best able to support sustainable businesses.