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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Engineering Interventions to Reduce the Impact of Meat: A Systems Thinking Approach

With 10 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050, it is difficult to envisage how today’s global food system will address the externalities imposed on the environment, while ensuring food security for present and future generations. Meeting future nutritional needs in a sustainable and resilient way will specifically require lowering the environmental and socioeconomic impact of meat. Since livestock production is currently responsible for fifteen percent of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the growing demand for animal products will inevitably mean even greater health problems and severe global warming.

Addressing such a complex problem, rooted in personal and cultural values, is a route that few actors in industry, government, media, and civil society have been willing to take. A multidisciplinary and holistic approach is required to address this ‘cycle of inertia’. This study aims to propose intervention strategies that can effectively reduce the impact of meat through a systems thinking approach. Critical literature reviews and interviews with experts from different fields are conducted to understand the underlying structure of the meat system. This helps identify who, where and how to intervene effectively to drive change within the system.

The results of this study show a meat system model comprising six main dimensions: cultural, social, institutional, economic, value chain, and environmental. While the cultural dimension acts as the ‘engine’, based on four critical personal variables, the other five dimensions determine the behaviour of the system by influencing its core and the different stages of the meat value chain. In this system, 23 key variables which act as leverage points are identified, based on the number of connections to other variables, and are classified according to their level of effectiveness. Intervention strategies are then proposed to tackle these key variables, which paves the way to the development of a qualitative framework that facilitates the engagement of stakeholders to break the cycle of inertia.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.