It’s not news that food loss and waste is an urgent challenge. We’ve known for some time that around one-third of the world’s food goes uneaten, even as more than 820 million people don’t have enough to eat. We’ve also known that food loss and waste accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and costs the global economy nearly $1 trillion every year.
But, with challenges come opportunities, and reducing the amount of food that goes to waste is an important opportunity for companies wanting to build sustainable businesses. It’s a particular opportunity for food manufacturers and cold chain companies that can help ensure more food makes it from farm to plate. Cold chain technology is increasingly helping cut food losses worldwide, which in turn helps farmers earn income. And, new innovations closer to the consumer side of the chain, such as better packaging for refrigerated perishable food that shows when food is getting close to spoilage, can help consumers waste less food at home.
For many businesses, though, the question isn’t so much why they should prioritize food loss and waste reduction. Research has found that companies save significant money, with many saving $14 and upwards for every $1 they put toward efforts to reduce food loss and waste. Companies also report a number of strategic yet non-financial reasons to curb waste, such as stakeholder relationships and environmental sustainability.
Rather, the question is how to go about reducing this waste.
Champions 12.3, the coalition of executives from across the private and public sectors committed to helping the world halve food loss and waste by 2030, has developed an ethos that can be applied across sectors.
First, set a target. Targets set ambition, and ambition motivates action. Many companies are already setting targets to reduce food loss and waste aligned with SDG Target 12.3, and are also committing to work with customers and partners up and down the chain to reduce waste.
Second, measure your food loss and waste. What gets measured gets managed. Companies should measure their food loss and waste to understand how much, where and why it is occurring, and they should monitor progress over time. The Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard) can help companies do so.
Third, act. What ultimately matters is action. Implementing practices, programs and policies that reduce food loss and waste are important for achieving progress. Once you have measurements and data, you can identify where the biggest opportunities are and where the most significant losses occur. Involve staff, as they will know how and why the losses occur and will be able to help identify solutions.
It is also important to collaborate with others up and down the supply chain to develop “whole chain” solutions to problems and ensure that decisions aren’t just passing the problem somewhere else in the supply chain. Cold chain businesses have an important role in the supply chain and act as a link between other players, both up and down the chain. Likewise, frozen food manufacturers have an opportunity to help consumers reduce their household waste by highlighting how freezing foods and their frozen food products can be part of the solution.
The food loss and waste challenge is huge. Halving food loss and waste is vital if we are to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050, according to research presented by World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C. Achieving Target 12.3 would reduce the gap between food available in 2010 and what will be needed by 2050 by 20%. At the same time, it would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 3 Gt CO2e per year by 2050, an amount more than the current energy- and industry-related emissions of India.
The opportunity is there. With a strategy of target, measure and act, food manufacturers and cold chain businesses can help the world halve food loss and waste, while building a better business and contributing to a better planet.