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A Framework for Sustainability Transition: The Case of Plant-Based Diets

Abstract

Societal and technological development during the last century has enabled Western economies to achieve a high standard of living. Yet this profusion of wealth has led to several outcomes that are undesirable and/or unsustainable. There is thus an imperative need for a fundamental and rapid transition towards more sustainable practices. While broad conceptual frameworks for managing sustainability transitions have been suggested in prior literature, these need to be further developed to suit contexts in which the overall vision is arguably clear, such as in the case of consuming animal-originated foodstuffs. In this article we introduce a novel transition management framework that is based upon the dimensions of sustainability. The suggested transition management process includes the identification of objectives and obstacles, the listing of options and their opportunities and threats as well as the evaluation of the outcomes (the Five O’s). We argue that sustainability transition management should be a process in which the identification of the relevant dimensions of sustainability and related objectives forms the foundation for strategic, tactical and operational governance activities. We illustrate the practical applicability of the framework in the case of transition towards plant-based diets.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. The whole system involved in producing and consuming food, including administrative and commercial actors, as well as consumers.

  2. There are some suggestions in the scientific literature concerning the extent of such a transition. See McMichael et al. (2007) for exact amounts or Rifkin (1993) for a composition.

  3. For a corresponding conceptualization and explanation in terms of ecological economics, see e.g., Harris (2003).

  4. The inclusion of the animal dimension might emphasize the distinction between humans (i.e., social and cultural ethics) and other animals (i.e., animal ethics). The purpose here is not to present such a categorical ethical division but to put forward a conceptual tool for analysing sustainability.

  5. Similarly, to avoid excessive top-down control, the decision of how to define “meat” (e.g., whether or not to include white meat) is left to the transition arena.

  6. Such systems include the linguistic terms separating living animals from their meat (e.g., veal from calves, pork from pigs), as well as the relocation of butchering facilities from inner cities to industrial areas (see Vialles, 1994).

  7. It has been argued that the welfare of all beings is at the heart of Darwinism (Rachels, 1990, p. 222), not the domination of the strong over the weak.

  8. Although this is already the case in most European countries, the situation might be different globally as indicated, for instance, by the appeal of an international coalition of scientists (IAP, 2006).

  9. Food pyramids and food plates are graphical representations of the nutritional recommendations given by national authorities such as the US Department of Agriculture or UK National Health Service.

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Vinnari, M., Vinnari, E. A Framework for Sustainability Transition: The Case of Plant-Based Diets. J Agric Environ Ethics 27, 369–396 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-013-9468-5

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Keywords

  • Sustainable development
  • Sustainability
  • Transition
  • Animal protection
  • Meat consumption
  • Vegetarianism