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Lessons from Project X: Redefining risk and fear in times of environmental crisis

People have often asked me - why Project X? Why now? The answer is simple: We simply cannot sit around and see business destroying our environment much faster than it can be regenerated.

I co-created Project X in 2015 with the goal of bettering the world. It was designed to tackle ecological challenges on a massive scale by targeting the sustainability performance of the 10 industries with the biggest impact on biodiversity in the next decade – otherwise known as our 10 In 10 Programme.

Harnessing industrial purchasing power to scale innovations and catalyse the shift towards truly regenerative business has never been done before at this speed, but it is this grand challenge that we and our community want to own. And while it is clear that the sustainability agenda has rapidly grown in popularity, corporate purchasing trends show that our work is more urgent than ever. Companies ‘can expect disruptions to erase half a year’s worth of profits or more over the course of a decade’ – McKinsey Global Institute, August 2020.

Our planet is degrading at an exponential rate, and the average response is linear, and simply not enough to reverse the damage. Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, says this: “Today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the Goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. 2020 needs to usher in a decade of ambitious action to deliver the Goals by 2030.”

Project X

Unknown unknowns

If systemic environmental change is an achievable goal, why haven’t more businesses undertaken these challenges themselves? The short answer is fear.

Managing global supply chains exposes a business to many uncertainties in supply and demand, which in turn entails a great exposure to risks. The ripple effect of risk in interconnected value chains is a growing concern in times of chaos. I find many people focus on tangible risks, which are commonly perceived as operational and financial. However, intangible risks like trust, confidence levels and knowledge are actually behind much of the environmental challenge we face.

Uncertainty in a supply chain increases human stress levels, which in turn creates a lack of confidence and trust to make optimal decisions at each stage and most importantly in key moments of change. In times of transformation, fear of making the wrong decision reaches a peak level and ends up bringing about more wrong decisions.

Indeed, the fear factor is a death spiral for planet earth. It is time we remove fear and the inertia to act, and make ‘taking action’ a lower risk than a ‘failure to act. It is time we catalyse bravery and lower the risk to act.

Collective endeavour

The environmental crises we are facing cannot be addressed by a single person or sector. We are stronger together and this is core to Project X’s philosophy, principles and processes as a systems catalyst, and as a B Corp. We can only make the multiplier transformative change required at the pace the planet needs it, by trusting the collective force of our partners.

As a global community, we must collaborate at every level and in every link in the supply chain. And we must for us means bringing together the power of procurement, investment, innovation and knowledge to amplify the value of coordinated actions.

We know that soon systemic and collaborative generative business practices will become business-as-usual for industry incumbents. This was the foundation of our work with FEED-X – the first of many corporate multipliers with our 10 in 10 programme.

End-to-end transparency

Our experience of running FEED-X over two years revealed that we need more trust in supply chains at a B2B and B2C level. In the case of the feed sector, consumers are demanding a stronger connection to their food as well as the transparency and sustainability of its origin. Our experience showed that feed – an aspect not evident to the public – must be a positive and fundamental part of how the food and drink manufacturing industry will transform in the coming years.

Simply put, transparency builds trust; trust builds confidence; confidence builds loyalty, and loyalty builds premium. Communication allows us to have a conversation with everyone in the supply chain about the things that are important to make change happen. But the reason this is so hard is that there is a lack of ‘end-to-end’ visibility.

One of my favourite proverbs is “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” We cannot change the actions of our predecessors, but we can build the tools so that we can come together to make sustainable alternatives to the mainstream.

Project X is extremely proud to be doing what it can to better the state of the planet; the Feed X goal of shifting circa 107m tonnes of the global feed industry is well within reach. We welcome all action takers to join Project X on its mission and shift $1.3trn from unsustainable sourcing to sustainable sourcing by 2030. This is c $400m every working day until 2030.

The time is now. To take action and amplify action. We can only do this with you.

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Marcela Navarro

Marcela Navarro, Project X Global CEO & Co-Founder