Sustainability experts: Systems and individual mapping key for seafood’s sustainability movement

Published on
March 19, 2021

The sustainability movement in seafood encompasses a vast network of initiatives and individuals committed to driving lasting change.

Working within the movement can feel “like being in a galaxy,” according to Walton Family Foundation Senior Environmental Program Officer Teresa Ish, in that it inspires awe and, at the same time, a sense of uncertainty about where to turn next.

“It’s hard to see the galaxy when you’re sitting inside it,” Ish said during a Seafood2030 keynote panel at this week’s Seafood Expo North America Reconnect.

Stockholm Resilience Centre Researcher Per Olsson, who joined Ish for the session “Resilience, Innovation, and Transformation: Bouncing Beyond in a Post-COVID World,” agreed navigating sustainability systems is nuanced, expansive work. That’s why he advises seafood industry stakeholders to start out focused on creating a systems-mapping process.

“If you want to start somewhere, I think systems mapping is really important, to get a view of the system that you’re trying to change,” Olsson said. “It’s about mapping components and the interactions between them, but also where in the transformation you are. Are you before a crisis, sort of in the preparation phase? Or has the crisis happened and you’re trying to rebuild?”

Regarding seafood sustainability, several global challenges exist “that could effectively limit the movement’s future progress,” David & Lucile Packard Foundation Program Officer Sarah Hogan said, referencing a recent market strategy evaluation for the Packard and Walton Family Foundations. These obstacles include “COVID-19 and future global supply chain disruptions, climate change, of course, and systemic inequity perpetuated by global supply chains,” Hogan said.

Deciding which of these areas, or others, to work on can be aided along by the systems mapping process, Olsson said. He suggested that stakeholders ask themselves what kind of entrepreneurial approach to sustainability they want to pursue as a good initial step.

“What level do you want to work on? Are you a social entrepreneur who wants to work on practices, or are you an institutional entrepreneur who wants to work on changing rules, or are you a moral entrepreneur and want to work with value chains? That’s also part of mapping the system and mapping yourself,” Olsson said.

Steve Waddell, the lead for Bounce Beyond, a growing network of communities that includes the Global Sustainable Seafood Transformations Working Group agreed with Olsson on the importance of mapping connections to accelerate deep change. According to Waddell, there is a need to create more of a collective consciousness around seafood sustainability efforts.

“We’re not in the initial stages of this transformation anymore. It’s not about us having to start some great, new initiative – it’s about us adding to the initiatives that are already offered. You might find there’s occasional holes in the initiatives that are happening, but it’s about understanding the others that are already having these conversations, and how to connect them so that we design the systems that change things,” Waddell said.

Waddell said seafood’s transformation systems include “all of the initiatives as a whole that are working to shift the world in this new-values way.”

“There’s lots of those initiatives, but they do not have themselves a collective transformation system consciousness. They don’t think of themselves as part of a system – they think of themselves as an initiative that’s going to do something,” Waddell said. “It’s about understanding how to put the pieces together and the connections so that we can operate as a powerful transformation system rather than as just another change in the shift.”

As crucial as it is to map out transformation systems, it is just as critical to do some deeper introspection, Olsson said.

“Map yourself. Take a good look at yourself – you might be part of the problem. I think this is something we do way too seldom,” he said. “We like to say, ‘Yes, that’s the problem – let’s change that thing over there.’ We should start with ourselves, because a lot of what we do [serves] to actually perpetuate the very systems we’re trying to change.”  

Olsson, a “middle-aged white man” working a lot in South Africa, does this by consistently asking himself “if I’m perpetuating the very system – the colonial, patriarchal system – that I have in me.”

Photo courtesy of optimarc/Shutterstock

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