According to Dr. Liz Goodwin, addressing food waste is smart business

Food companies of every kind – from farmers to manufacturers to retailers – think a lot about the food they produce for consumers. But what about all the food that is lost or wasted, the food that never makes it to our dinner tables? Its impacts are bigger than many realise.

One-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted between farm and plate, a fact that costs the global economy nearly $1 trillion each year and results in eight per cent of the greenhouse gases driving climate change. In fact, if all of the world’s lost or wasted food were a country, it would be the third largest emitter behind China and the United States. What’s more tragic is, as 1.3 billion tons of food goes to waste, one in nine people goes to bed hungry.

Recognising the immense effects, in 2015 the world’s countries voted to include Target 12.3 in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The target calls on the world’s governments, cities, businesses and citizens to collectively work toward halving food loss and waste by 2030.

With just ten years to go, we’re at a critical moment and exciting momentum is beginning to build. Two-thirds of the world’s 50 largest food companies have set a food loss and waste reduction target in line with SDG 12.3, or they participate in programs that have a target. Forty-four per cent of the largest food companies have started measuring food loss and waste within their own operations, and 30 per cent are measuring and also reporting on their food loss and waste. And a full one-third of the 50 largest food companies have established food loss and waste reduction programs.

And yet, given all that action, we are not yet on track to meet the global goal of a 50 per cent reduction. Many more stakeholders, including businesses of every size, must engage in the fight to stop food loss and waste.

Roadmap for action
In the summer of 2019, World Resources Institute – along with UN Environment, WRAP and experts from a host of other partner organisations – released a report outlining a global agenda to give companies and governments a roadmap for action. The three-pronged approach is straight-forward:

Target-Measure-Act: Set food loss and waste reduction targets, measure to identify hotspots of food loss and waste and to monitor progress over time, and take action on the hotspots.

‘To do’ list: Pursue a short to-do list we’ve identified per player in the food supply chain as ‘no regret’ first steps toward taking action.

Ten scaling interventions: Collaborate in ten areas to ramp up deployment of Target-Measure-Act and the to-do list.

The report, and a subsequent report providing a deep-dive into the ten scaling interventions, are an urgent call for more leadership on the issue of food loss and waste. Importantly, they provide not only strategies that food companies can use within their own operations, but tactics to build momentum across the supply chain, creating a wave of impact exponentially bigger than individual actions.

These are strategies like making the 2020s a ‘decade of storage solutions,’ so food storage technologies are ubiquitous, affordable and climate-friendly; working with consumers to shift norms so wasting food is the exception and not the rule; and creating more public-private partnerships dedicated to halving food loss and waste.

Already, cities such as Brighton, Leicester and London have food strategies that link reducing food waste with ending food poverty and ensuring local citizens have adequate nutrition. These cities and food policies are natural partners for businesses looking to plug into efforts that will make their consumers’ lives better.

Beyond the clear moral imperative, though, companies have another reason to get involved: a robust business case. A look at 1200 business sites across 700 companies in 17 countries found that nearly every site evaluated achieved a positive return, with half seeing a 14-fold or greater return on investment. The companies represented a range of sectors, including food manufacturing, food retail and food service, proving that reducing food loss and waste is achievable and profitable no matter the business type.

The report also found business leaders see fighting food loss and waste as an important strategy for building good will with both customers and employees. Because we all eat – and, unfortunately waste – food at home, this issue is an easy one to engage people as individuals. It’s also a money saver for families, which on average spend £700 a year on food they just end up binning.

It’s simply smart business to reduce food loss and waste. The savings are clear. The moral case is clear. And the world now has an action agenda, including sector-specific to-do lists and ten interventions that can bring us together to make a difference.

Dr. Liz Goodwin is Senior Fellow and Director, Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute. World Resources Institute (WRI) is a global research organisation that spans more than 60 countries. Its more than 1000 experts and staff work closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action to sustain the world’s natural resources. www.wri.org