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Growing London: A recipe for a net positive food system

A city where every person & organisation is working together for a delicious, net positive, circular, resilient food system!

Photo of Liza Clothier
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Greater London

What country is your selected Place located in?

United Kingdom

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Just a short train journey from our head office in Banbury, the capital of the UK is a city the team is very familiar with.

WRAP has proven experience of engaging with and changing the London food system though the TRiFOCAL project (2017-2020) and with our partnership with the London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB) and The Greater London Authority (GLA) – called Resource London. TRiFOCAL engaged with all 33 London boroughs and brought together a wide range of food system actors including local organisations and businesses, community groups and schools to change London’s food system in three areas: healthy and sustainable eating (15% increase in Londoners demonstrating knowledge), food waste recycling (14% increase in the amount of avoidable food waste recycled), and food waste prevention (9% reduction in avoidable food waste generated per household per week).  Resource London is a unique partnership designed to enable London Waste authorities to deliver high quality services both in terms of waste and recycling but also in communications with householders.  Both of these initiatives have brought us closer to the challenges and opportunities that London faces, some unique to the city and some consistent with mega cities around the world.

Added to this, some of WRAP’s staff are London residents, and it’s the home of the UK government, a major donor to WRAP and with whom we have a 20 years relationship.

We want to continue this connection to London and build on our relationships and knowledge of the communities.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

With a diverse population, London is a hub for all types of food from across the world. From Michelin starred restaurants, Instagram-friendly pop ups, backstreet takeaways & many food markets, London represents food in all its guises.

The population is ~9M, over 13% of the UK population. London has almost 40,000 restaurants.

37% of London’s population is foreign born, with 300+ languages spoken; the food sold, produced, cooked & eaten there reflects this. From the curry hub of Brick Lane, noodles in Chinatown, pie & mash in the East End, fine dining in the West End, not to mention 100s of different cuisines being prepared (or microwaved!) in households across the city; Londoners eat a varied & exciting diet.

West London includes expensive residential areas where properties can sell for £10M+. The East End is the area closest to the original Port of London, known for its high immigrant population, as well as for being one of the poorest areas in London.

Food-growing takes place throughout London, from commercial farming to cultivation on allotment sites, private gardens, windowsills & balconies. Approaches to food-growing include commercial enterprises, individual gardening activities & community food-growing, & the range of foods produced includes fruit & vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, honey & wine. The food industry contributes significantly to the city’s overall GDP. A limited amount of agricultural activity still goes on within the Greater London boundary, but it's mostly highly chemical-intensive & focuses mainly on arable & livestock production rather than fruit & vegetable growing, which could yield greater social benefits. Growing food in the city is a niche activity, often seen as the preserve of those who have the time and/or money. There are a few city farms & gardens & many NGOs promote these, especially in schools & under-served areas, but they are still not ‘business as usual’.

People in London have many & varied hopes & dreams. As one of the most expensive cities in the world & with limited space, many people dream of home ownership or the chance to have more space, a garden, a parking space! People in London are also proud of London’s draws & eccentricities: instructions for which side of an escalator to stand on, which tube exit brings you out on the right side of the street, whether your taxi driver will take you south of the river, and so on.

London is a city steeped in history, some of which still comes to life regularly, like the annual tradition of driving a herd of sheep across London Bridge, or the keeping of a minimum of six ravens at the Tower of London at all times. Taking afternoon tea at the Ritz is as much a part of London’s unique cultural scene as late night fish & chips after a few pints of ale; the cultural variety embodied by London’s food scene is part of its draw as a destination for millions of people every year.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

London’s current food system faces many challenges that are already at tipping points. The population is set to increase by 37% to over 11M by 2050.

London is a carbon intensive city; its carbon footprint is ~15 tonnes per person p/a, to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goal this needs to be reduced to <1.7 tonnes per person p/a. The food system in the UK contributes ~19% to our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By 2050 London’s food system needs to become net-positive to enable wider decarbonisation of the UK, & global supply chains.

As a resource intensive city, London is dependent on global supply chains; its ecological footprint – the number of global hectares (gha) of land needed to support a person – is 4.5 to 7.1 gha per person, while the bio-capacity of London is estimated to be only 0.16 gha per person. Food production & consumption contributes 41% of London’s ecological footprint; it must be reduced if Londoners are to live within ecological limits. By 2050, London has to re-establish a circular supply chain relationship with the food system in the Greater London Area, harnessing urban agriculture methods (as well as the surrounding food producing regions). This new circular food system needs to encourage increased biodiversity & improved soil health.

As an industrial city with high employment, many Londoners rely on eating out, takeaways & convenience food. This is enabled by technology, with apps (e.g. Deliveroo) making deliveries easy. Recipe delivery services (e.g. Hello Fresh) are becoming popular & encourage sustainable cooking at home.

The mix of cultures & faiths means a variety of approaches to food. E.g. hospitality is a key virtue of Sikhism; guests must be fed. In Chinese culture, the empty plate of a guest is refilled until there is food leftover. Many religious & cultural festivals (Christmas, Eid, Divali etc.) are focused on big feasts.

London homes waste over 910,000 tonnes of food p/a, of which 640,000 tonnes could have been eaten. This is environmentally damaging & a waste of money. By 2050, London needs to harness its food waste as a source of value, nutrients & energy; reducing edible waste, & valorising inedible parts.

There’s significant inequality in London. Rising food prices place family budgets under increasing strain meaning higher levels of child hunger & food poverty. Over 2.3M Londoners live below the poverty line & 33% of adults have skipped meals so that their children can eat.

London is also facing an obesity time bomb. Whilst it has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the UK, (58% the population is overweight or obese), 40% of London’s children aged 10-11 are overweight or obese, & 7,000+ young people have been diagnosed with diet related diabetes.

London’s food policy is co-ordinated though the London Food Board (LFB), who advise the Mayor of London & Greater London Authority on food. However, the national policy decisions are uncoordinated & spread across multiple government departments.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision addresses the challenges by creating a delicious, net positive, & resilient food system for London.

Behind the scenes of London’s restaurants, shops, kitchens, farms & board rooms, we will see farmers, food producers, retailers, restaurants, policy makers & NGOs uniting to address the challenges facing London’s current food system.

Reducing food loss & waste will address environmental challenges, especially London’s carbon footprint. By reducing the 600,000 tonnes of edible food that’s wasted, we’ll also address the carbon embedded in that food. Not wasting food means less land needed to produce it, reducing the likelihood of deforestation & destruction of other habitats.

We’ll see improvements for biodiversity & soil health as food production is driven not just by how much it grows but by how well it protects & improves the environment. Composting or anaerobic digestion will help to protect & regenerate soils, increasing water holding capacity, the life they support & helping to reduce erosion & washing into waterways.

Londoners will have better access to healthy food, a more conscious understanding of healthy diets as well as trusting shops to help them eat sustainable diets via the types of food available. It will be easier & more normal for people to eat a healthy diet.

Our vision will enable new economic models & business innovations including change in procurement, transport & land use. This leads to a resilient London food system (featuring urban agriculture, & a well develop bio-economy sector), interlinked with global trade systems. It will catalyse “equitable” food pricing, & develop a London-wide food rescue & donation operation, reducing hunger & increasing equality. People will save money by not buying food that is wasted & the public sector can save on procurement by reducing waste. New business models (e.g. Too Good to Go app) will flourish because all the possible ways of preventing food waste will be normalised meaning food goes to feed people & healthy food can be accessed by all people.

London’s multicultural makeup will be respected & celebrated. We will engage with all cultures at every life stage (at schools, work, religious & community groups, etc.) inspiring dietary change & reducing food loss and waste within cultural contexts. Cultural norms will be nudged to increase food system welfare (animal & human), social justice, reductions in inequality etc.

New technology can drive food system change, ie.g. wider adoption of Internet of Things, blockchain & AI, & integration of new technologies related to developing urban agriculture, bio-economy, carbon cycling & sequestration, crop breeding, & innovations of packaging & shopping options. Delivery apps could be an amazing way to drive more sustainable choices & ensure surplus food reaches people who need it.

Our vision will enable integration & increased communication of policy between London, regional, and national policy makers.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Londoners in 2050 will experience a very different food system to 2020, with equitable access to affordable, sustainable & healthy food. There will be a wide understanding & appreciation of how the entire food system, from farm to fork, functions, & how a sustainable food system benefits society, environment & economy. People will know what food is healthy & sustainable; why wasting food is bad; & will cut food waste at least in 1/2 at home & on the go. These messages will be seen & heard all around London, from schools, corner shops, Uber Eats to 5 star restaurants.

The food that feeds London will create a positive impact on the environment in different ways. Every morsel will be put to best use & only the inedible parts will be discarded. These will be valorised, helping to close the nutrient loop. The wider food system will be net positive (sequestering more carbon than it emits), encouraging well-being for both people & planet.

The food that feeds London will be sourced from responsible, sustainable producers, especially the food sourced for the public sector. These producers could be around the corner or around the world as we build up London’s capacity to grow its own food. Londoners could see sheep in Shepherd’s Bush & potatoes growing in Covent Garden as urban agriculture contributes to developments in the bio-economy sector, linking with global trade systems.

The businesses that feed Londoners will want to work together to create a fair & healthy food ecosystem, recognising that no business can do it alone & that collaboration is key to systemic change. Businesses will collaborate with government & other organisations to unite the technical, economic & policy levers that help to effect cultural shifts (e.g. in purchasing habits & diets) in order to deliver positive environmental impacts.

London will have an effective & integrated food policy options that support the entire food system.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The Growing London vision sees WRAP  facilitating a net positive, circular, culturally appropriate, and resilient food system that feeds delicious nourishing food to all 11 million+ Londoners in 2050. 

London’s food system will undergo rapid cultural and economic shifts leading to changes in Londoners’ diets, and a reduction of the London food system’s environmental and ecological impacts. Strong holistic food policy and the adoption of innovative technology will be enabling factors for this new food future. 

At the centre of Growing London is collaboration between all major food system actors (including farmers, food producers, retailers, restaurants, policy makers, and civil society organisations). The implementation of a systems focused collaboration to inspire better food system performance. WRAP knows from our previous projects that collective action is more cost-effective and provides greater transformative impact than when organisations tackle issues in isolation. WRAP has proven capability of building networks in the UK and globally, having led and managed collaborations focused on resource efficiency for 20 years. 

Only by bringing together people in partnership, can we build a full picture of how the current food system is operating, what barriers exist to achieving better environmental, social and financial outcomes and how we can build a solution that is acceptable and implementable by all parties. Bringing all food system actors together not only enables businesses to see where they can drive action forward voluntarily, and inspires and empower farmers and communities, but can also drive more nuanced, more effective and integrated policy making. The linking of all food system actors also improves the wider food system resilience and capacity.

Activity in Growing London will be used identify the root causes of unsustainable and unhealthy practices, waste, and other inefficiencies that deliver negative outcomes. This identification and food system mapping will be informed by all members of the collaboration, allowing for greater transparency and equity in food system design, while respecting London’s existing vibrant and multicultural food-ways, community networks, and cultural norms. Transformative change happens when all stakeholders work together towards agreed targets and actions. This allows for all actors to support a coordinated shifting of London’s food production and consumption. 

Central to our food future for London is the ambition to make London’s food system net positive (sequestering more carbon than it emits) and circular by 2050. This will enable wider decarbonisation of the UK, and global food systems and supply chains.  By coordinating the setting of targets (and a roadmap for actions) for GHG emissions, resource use, food loss and waste, biodiversity, and soil health, the London food system of 2050 will look very different

Growing London will champion the use of technology and policy to enable London to become net positive as soon as technically possible. This new circular food system will include the increased use of 1) urban agriculture, controlled environment horticulture, and urban aquaculture – growing appropriate food for London in Greater London Area where possible; and 2) valorisation and the bio-economy – reducing waste, improving nutrient cycling, maximising value and minimising negative impacts for all materials. This shift to net positive food systems includes the development of alternative feeds and proteins production and markets (lab grown meats, seaweed, microalgae, insects, and bacteria) in London.

Our food future for London also embraces the fact that London is multicultural vibrant industrial city of 9 million people.  Growing London seeks to celebrate London’s diversity and successes, while reducing inequality, food poverty, hunger and obesity. WRAP will coordinate all parts of the food system to transform the food offered to people in London, making it tastier, healthier, safer and more affordable. This extends to transforming procurement policy for governments and businesses to purchase food and services from the local food system where possible to further increase resilience. Further challenges to food system resilience such as financial risks and production shocks will be mitigated through Growing London’s whole systems approach. New financial support mechanisms can be brought in to smooth out risks and increase certainty for all actors.

Growing London will move beyond “business as usual” approaches to make business unusual the norm. WRAP will coordinate the scaling of sustainability standards and the redefining grocery retail models to encourage new ways of buying, greater power to producer, and an increase in convenience for the consumer. Growing London will also catalyse “equitable” pricing of food, as well as further develop food rescue and redistribution operations (harnessing AI, Internet of Things and blockchain technology), to reduce hunger and increase food equality in London. These new economic models will create new food system jobs, giving the people of London a greater connection to their food system than ever before.  To assist with this development of a workforce (and food skills), WRAP will engage stakeholders at all levels of education to integrate the values and messages of Growing London into nursery, primary, secondary, and tertiary education. This includes additional food policy training (linking to the use of AI, big data) for the next generation of policy makers.

By 2050, social norms, food culture, consumption, and production will have been transformed, making sustainable diets easy and appealing. WRAP has strong track record of achieving national behaviour and social change (using methods underpinned by the theory of planned behaviour, and social practice theory). WRAP’s strategy includes engaging with communities, faith groups, chefs, and cultural leaders to become agents and ambassadors for the Growing London project. WRAP will also collaborate with manufacturers, distributors, and supermarkets to innovate products and packaging, and change the retail and food environment to align with the net-positive, health, and sustainability goals of Growing London.

The adoption of innovative technology is one of the enabling factors for this new food future. Technology will change many parts of the food system increasing connectivity and communication, inspiring new partnerships & collaborations. This increased use of technology includes embracing the food chain data revolution, allowing all parts of the food system to access data-based decision making, and free and open data. Additional technologies that will be crucial to realising the potential of Growing London will be the deployment of Industry 4.0 in the food system (linking sensors to cyber-physical systems to create intelligent supply and demand networks that anticipate demand and share information). Likewise, the development of active & intelligent packaging (featuring packaging diagnostics, freshness indicators, temperature monitoring, product information, product traceability), carbon cycling and sequestration using agricultural practices; and innovative crop breeding will all be crucial to reduce loss and waste, increase nutrition, and meet net-zero targets.

Strong holistic food policy supporting the existing London Food Board, Mayor of London (a Champion 12.3 member), and Greater London Authority is the final action to support the changes proposed under Growing London.  An integrated platform will allow national, local and regional policy makers (with input from the wider food systems community)  to coordinate strategy and plan the actions and targets for the Growing London project to 2050 and beyond.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hello again!

The following link may be of interest to continue refining your 2050 Vision. Here you will find the invitation to an upcoming Future-casting Webinar, and a recording of our recent Systems Thinking Webinar:

This is the moment when you can connect with other Visionary teams, provide feedback and get inspired by other submissions.

Warm regards,