My Key Learnings from #FoodCOP27: Innovation, Female Leadership, and Voluntary Commitments

Ten days later, I am still reflecting on my time at COP27 – the challenges and frustrations, inspiration, and the many learnings in between. Ultimately, my takeaway was that it can be all of those things, all at once, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage. In fact, it means that we should. In the course of two weeks, I attended and spoke on panels, took walk-and-talk meetings between sessions (oftentimes so that one of us could guide the other to the next location without getting lost), had long, thought-provoking dinner conversations, and stumbled into serendipitous opportunities along the way. The energy was dynamic, there was no shortage of deep-thinking, and many rejuvenating friendships were made in the space along the way. Here are just a few of the learnings that I’ll carry with me into the new year and beyond, and maybe they’ll resonate with you too. 

  1. Breaking down silos between the government, private sector, financial institutions, and civil society are more important than ever. Each of these sectors are interconnected, and collaboration is key in moving forward to maximize what we can get done with finite resources and the the tight timeline we have left.
  2. During my time on the USCIB/ICC panel, Keeping Voluntary Pledges on Track for Trust, Transparency, and Impact, on November 16, I was humbled to be sitting in the presence of such esteemed climate and business experts discussing the need to balance aspiration and pragmatism in terms of making and tracking voluntary private sector commitments. It’s imperative these commitments are meaningful, achievable, and transparent – balancing the need for urgent and ambitious action, combatting greenwashing, yet also being mindful of the very real challenges that companies of all sizes face in tackling ESG, especially those that fall into the SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) category (which is around 90% of all businesses globally). 

The biggest question is not whether we do this, but how? It’s the primary question, and one we spent an hour barely scratching the surface of.  To start, companies need to make ambitious and also achievable commitments, share where they are with their progress and how far they’ve come, and openly and honestly communicate the challenges ahead so that the public (and their consumers and partners) feel engaged in and part of the journey, especially if adjustments need to be made. It’s equally important to celebrate ‘continuous improvement,’ acknowledging the wins that have been made and the steps and improvements still to come, instead of only focusing on the greatest wins and aspirations, which can and is creating ‘commitment wariness.’ And perhaps, most importantly, the takeaway from this panel is that globally we need to find a way to support SMEs in their ESG journey as they are a majority of global businesses with the greatest range in terms of resources and ESG expertise to leverage to make improvements. And this doesn’t just mean (or stop with) a series of guidelines.  I challenge you to think through what this means. Do we need standardization – what are the strengths and also limitations? Do we need accelerators or support services – and how do we get business councils or chambers of commerce involved in rolling out fit-for-purpose programming? Are the current guidelines meeting all of the needs? The questions are many and we need much more dialogue, including vital SME stakeholders, on this topic to move the needle forward. 

  1. Female leadership was also the front and center conversation during our all-women panel hosted by Food Tank and big thanks to them for bringing this discussion to the forefront of an international conference like COP27. We all agreed that the power of female leadership not only needs to be honored and celebrated, but it’s time for it to be prioritized in our food system from large corporations and producers,  to processors, and smallholder farmers or small-scale fishers. Where do we start? A few ideas that were discussed include: stopping the  perpetuation of ‘manels’ (ever looked around and saw all men featured on countless panels? Those are ‘manels’), covering more female leaders in the media, funding female-led businesses, and celebrating the leadership women bring to your team — we all play a role in shifting this cycle. Together, we can empower the female leadership that’s needed to realize the potential of the future of food.
  1. The climate and the ocean face unprecedented challenges that require unique and expedited innovations and solutions. To get there,  we need human ingenuity, and all of the brightest minds, to come together. It’s time to focus less on what may not work and more on what could work, and the suite of solutions that we’ll need (hint: it’s all of them – thanks to Melissa Kopolow for the conversation on this). In terms of the ocean, we believe in the power of blue foods, and that alternative seafood and products (from plant-based to cell-cultured and everything in between) belong inside this big tent of solutions. Public Private Partnerships (PPP)  are needed to take innovations from research and development to scale and we need to focus on a collaborative, ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ approach.

I know there are a lot of mixed emotions and sometimes confusing feelings around COP – I’ve heard, discussed, and had them before, during, and after attending. After reflecting on this, I’ve landed on the conclusion that  they can co-exist and all be equally valid. Is it frustrating to witness the realities and failures around our climate progress? Yes, completely. Can it also be a bit of an inefficient maze (wandering around trying to find pavilions and attending an endless series of panels)? Yes, also true. Equally importantly, it’s also deeply soul-filling to meet the tenacious top-class global talent that insists on showing up to brainstorm big ideas and to ponder philosophical questions about how we can, and must, do better. It’s also extremely inspiring to see the sheer number of people that carry their learnings, networks, and passion home to push for change on the local, regional, and national levels thanks to convening opportunities like COP. Once I accepted that these feelings could co-exist, it was a relieving moment for me, where I no longer had to try and figure out what to think of COP or how to categorize it — it is all of it, all at once, and that can be true.

Sustainability September at Finless Foods

On a mission to create a future for seafood where the ocean thrives, Finless Foods lives this out everyday by creating plant-based and cell-cultured seafood. Beyond the development of alternative seafood, we are embedding our ocean thriving values and sustainability practices into our daily operations. 

First, we are developing a Green Team, a group of staff within the company dedicated to bringing sustainable practices to our business. This will include maintaining a composting system, providing safe methods for electronic waste, and choosing environmentally friendly supplies for our office and company events. They will also provide training and educational resources to our staff for sorting items for landfill, recycling, and compost, and sustainability practices they can bring home to their communities. 

Second, we have created a new role and welcomed Howie Vogt as the Sustainability Lead. He is responsible for working with our science and operations teams to advance our impact initiatives and bring daily support to deepening our commitment to our mission. Howie utilizes his expertise to champion new operational strategies, establish new partnerships, and connect our staff with volunteer opportunities. Our most recent volunteer event is pictured below. 

Image description: about 30 people standing and smiling together on a dirt surface in front of a grassy wetland. It is a sunny day with blue skies and some white clouds in the background.
Image description: about 30 people standing and smiling together on a dirt surface in front of a grassy wetland. It is a sunny day with blue skies and some white clouds in the background. 

In the spirit of California’s Coastal Clean Up Day on September 17th, we coordinated an event of over 30 staff members trekking out to the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park. In partnership with the Golden Gate Audubon Society, we removed trash and invasive plants from the coastline. We selected this site because it is close to home and a popular place for locals to appreciate the beautiful bay. This wetland is home to a variety of native birds, and we had some avid birders on our team who were excited to witness them nest in their natural habitat. We look forward to continuing our support of coastal communities, access to the outdoors, and habitat protection projects.

Where can you find Finless next? 

We have just wrapped up a joyful event on Sunday, September 18th at the New York Aquarium celebrating the Hudson Canyon becoming a designated National Marine Sanctuary. We partnered with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society to commemorate the designation of Hudson Canyon, an extremely important marine landmark that lies in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson Canyon is the largest underwater canyon along the United States’ Atlantic coastline. It is home to a diverse array of marine life including whales, sharks, sea turtles, fish, and deep-sea corals, as well as robust fisheries and a rich maritime history. This designation will help to sustain many species, prevent habitat degradation of this thousand-year-old ecosystem, and provide research, recreation, and education opportunities for the more than 22 million people that live in diverse communities across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Finless helped to celebrate this event by creating and distributing ocean-themed coloring pages for children, and serving our plant-based tuna, in honor of the marine species that will now be protected by the sanctuary designation. 

Join us next as we head to New York to participate in Climate Week. The 14th year of this event operates in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly. Shannon Cosentino-Roush team is participating in the Climate Action Through Regeneration: Exploring Key Solutions For the Climate Crisis panel at NeueHouse to discuss opportunities for driving regenerative business models and Finless Foods will be hosting a booth at the Marketplace of the Future.

Can’t make it to New York’s Climate Week? Enjoy our plant-based tuna at Gracias Madre on the west coast in San Francisco, where this beloved restaurant will be serving our product later this month. 

We are excited to return to headquarters with more updates and insights on our travels soon.