Innovating to Improve Nutrition can help meet Climate Targets

“Innovation is staying relevant” – Stephen Shapiro.

And what could be more relevant than climate change?

FHI Solutions is an international non-profit and impact network with experts in social behavior change, data for decision making, innovation management, advocacy, and sustainable development – working for a world with optimal nutrition for everyone. An impact network is a group of people and organizations coming together towards a common goal through a decentralized structure. As a member of the FHI 360 family, we are home to three networks, working across the impact cycle: Alive & Thrive; Intake Center for Dietary Assessment; and 1,000 Days.

Nutrition, Climate Change, and the Food System

Nutrition, the food system, and climate change are highly interconnected, with the causes of climate change – such as the burning of fossil fuels, emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), and deforestation – disrupting the world’s climate and creating risks for our food system. Equally, the food system, and current dietary habits, are significant contributors to climate change contributing to global biodiversity loss, deforestation, water pollution, and GHG emissions. The food system alone accounts for one-third of all GHGs emitted[1],[2].

This years’ United Nations Climate Change Conference, Egypt, (known as COP 27) provides a platform for governments to negotiate targets and for all stakeholders to commit joint actions. Given the multi-sectoral nature of global nutrition, food systems, and the health of our planet, COP 27 is an opportunity to accelerate urgent synchronized actions, policy, and innovations. At FHI Solutions, we believe that innovation can play a pivotal role in bringing sectors together and can foster sustainable actions that support the health of populations and the planet.

Our Social Change Innovations

We urgently need smart innovations to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Essentially, innovation is the introduction of a new idea, method, or device to an existing product, idea, or field. Innovation typically occurs when markets intersect with technology and business models. At FHI Solutions, we specialize in innovation management – rigorously testing, adapting, and scaling innovations and tools for some of the most pressing problems relating to global malnutrition and environmental sustainability. Our Innovation Incubator is a spin off from Alive & Thrive East Asia Pacific and is operationalized across the globe. The Incubator is a hub for trialing and testing products, services, methodologies, and technologies to optimize nutrition outcomes for all people, especially women, infants, and children. We work with a range of local partners, continuing to build strong partnerships with women in tech start-ups.

Green Feeding Climate Action Tool – Calculating the Environmental Gains from Breastfeeding

In 2018, two million tons of commercial milk formula was sold globally – equating to between fourteen and twenty-eight million tons of GHG emissions and ten million cubic meters of water. But through innovation, such as the Green Feeding Tool, we have the potential to positively influence the design of policies and programs across food and health systems to reduce GHG emissions and climate related impacts. This quantification tool, under development by the FHI Solutions Innovation Incubator and the Australian National University, puts the power of data in the hands of policymakers, advocates, environmentalists, and climate change scientists, enabling them to evaluate the reduction in GHG emissions and water use by increased breastfeeding and reduced reliance on commercial milk formula.

While providing a tool to aid governments and stakeholders to mitigate climate impacts, the Green Feeding Tool also supports advances in global breastfeeding rates in line with the World Health Organization targets.

Measuring the Environmental Impact of Diets: Introducing The Intake4Earth App

Understanding what people eat gives us the chance to help create policy environments that promote optimal nutrition for everyone and work within environmental pledges and standards, such as net-zero targets. Diets contribute significantly to GHG emissions and water consumption, while people’s changing dietary patterns have numerous environmental impacts, for example, certain food groups are more carbon heavy and use more agricultural land.

With anticipated release in 2023, the Intake4Earth app will allow countries, and all users, to use real time data to report on the environmental impact of diets by tracking five indicators of planetary health: GHG emissions, land use, eutrophication potential, water use, and bio-diversity loss. Once released, Intake4Earth will provide a metric for global use linking countries’ population level diet quality to environmental impacts. This tool fills a critical gap, and can inform a range of policies, investments, and actions to help meet climate targets.

The Intake4Earth app provides automatic tabulation of The Global Diet Quality Score (GDQS), which is the first diet quality metric that can be used worldwide to provide the necessary information for effectively assessing, monitoring, and evaluating population-level progress towards achieving healthy diets[3],[4]. The GDQS generates data for policy makers, program designers, researchers, and others to understand what people eat, especially in contexts where diets everywhere are changing rapidly towards the increased consumption of highly processed, energy-dense foods.

Intake – Centre for Dietary Assessment is currently available to provide no-cost technical support for the use of the Intake4Earth app for collecting data on the environmental impacts of diets and on diet quality. For more details, please contact us at

Learn more about our innovation incubator at FHI Solutions and at Alive & Thrive

Calling for Investment in Innovation to Bridge the Climate-Nutrition Gap

Ultimately, being able to reach climate targets requires governments and actors across sectors to come together to address common and systemic drivers to both climate change and global malnutrition, utilizing comprehensive policies and strategies to address current failures. Investment in innovation provides an avenue to test and adapt solutions to these common drivers. Over the years we have witnessed how innovations in one sector or area can spark longer lasting change across wider systems. At FHI Solutions we are calling for greater investment in innovation to bridge the gap between climate, food systems, and nutrition to support system-wide change, including, and not limited to supporting innovations that:

  • Promote shifts to sustainable and nutritious food production and diets
  • Reduce food loss, for example, through greater investment in innovations that repurpose food
  • Promote improved post-harvest food storage and processing strategies (e.g., such as climate-controlled facilities and transport options)
  • Research climate friendly solutions to make food more nutritious
  • Adopt the Global Diet Quality Score metric and app for population level assessment of diet quality; use real time data to inform responsible policymaking across the spheres of nutrition, health and food systems
  • Adopt the Intake4Earth App when it becomes available for use in 2023 to collect real time data on the environmental impact of population level diets; use this data to design evidence-based policies to reach climate targets.
  • Reduce the carbon footprint (through GHC and water use) for maternity services
  • Create supportive environments for exclusive and continued breastfeeding of infants and young children, while recognizing that countries that protect high breastfeeding rates are investing in a ‘carbon offset’, minimising water footprints and optimizing nutrition

In the days and months that follow this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, novel partnerships and new ventures will be required to set in chain scalable actions to meet mutually agreed targets. If you are interested in learning more or partnering with us, contact: Roger Mathisen,

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[1] Global Nutrition Report. (2021). 2021 Global Nutrition Report: The state of global nutrition. Bristol, UK: Development Initiatives.

[2] Crippa, M., Solazzo, E., Guizzardi, D., Monforti-Ferrario, F., Tubiello, F. N., & Leip, A. (2021). Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nature Food, 2, 198–209. https://doi. org/10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9

[3] Miller, V., Webb, P., Micha, R., Mozaffarian, D., & Global Dietary Database. (2020). Defining diet quality: a synthesis of dietary quality metrics and their validity for the double burden of malnutrition. Lancet Planet Health, 4(8), e352–e370. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30162-5

[4] The GDQS was released in 2021 after Miller et al (2020) were unable to identify a single diet quality metric that addressed the double burden of malnutrition.