Courtauld: a model for the world to follow in the fight against food waste

Dr Marcus Gover, CEO, WRAP

In 2005, when we first embarked on our ambitious journey to tackle food and packaging waste in the UK through an expansive voluntary agreement which aimed to span the whole of the supply chain, there was a good helping of scepticism.

How could we keep a huge, complex industry, often with competing interests, in an increasingly volatile economic environment, united under a single goal: to reduce waste and cut the resources needed to provide UK’s food & drink?

Thirteen years later, and the Courtauld Commitment, led by WRAP, is demonstrable proof that all those involved continue to rise to that challenge. It has established the UK as a leading light in the global fight against food waste, and is a model which is being replicated around the world. In fact, an important part of WRAP’s mission is to support many more countries to follow the Courtauld example.

We are now on the fourth stage on our journey to 2025. Our 150+ members come from right across the food supply chain and the steady expansion of the membership over Courtauld’s lifetime means that today they are collectively responsible for 93% of food sales in the UK.

Together, we have helped reduce waste by over 3.5 million tonnes in the UK; a saving worth £5 billion; we have helped bring household waste down by nearly a quarter working with our Love Food Hate Waste campaign and increased food distribution by half to 43,000 tonnes a year – the equivalent of a staggering 35 million extra meals. We have achieved this through collaboration and innovation.

Which is why we were delighted for that hard work and commitment from all those involved to be recognised on the international stage recently at the Copenhagen Summit organised by P4G – Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030.

In front of a 500-strong audience which included Heads of State, business leaders, governments and international NGOs, Courtauld was awarded the prestigious ‘State-of-the-Art Partnership of the Year Award’ – against competition from a host of hugely impressive examples of public-private partnerships from around the world.

In the end, it was the combination of the scale, impact, innovation and replicability of Courtauld, along with the proven ability of WRAP to convene and catalyse change, which convinced the judging panel of industry experts to award us the overall prize.

Importantly, we were also able to demonstrate that reducing food waste makes economic as well as environmental research. Our ground-breaking research with the World Resources Institute showed that businesses and governments can reap a 14:1 return on investment in reducing food waste – something it was good to hear Paul Polman, Chief Executive of Unilever, allude to his in Summit address.

So, it was a great honour to be standing on the stage with my colleague Richard Swannell, Director of WRAP Global, and one of the original driving forces in Courtauld, to receive the impressive trophy from HRH The Crown Princess of Denmark.

We were conscious that we were there to collect it on behalf of all our Courtauld partners. Without our business and government partners showing commitment and ability to act, the impact would not have been delivered. 

That is not to say we do not face some challenges ahead. 

The scale of the food waste challenge is monumental. One third of the world’s food, worth more than $940 billion, is lost or wasted, every year. With around a billion people going hungry, this is unacceptable on so many levels. 

As well as the human cost, the environmental cost is also huge: if it were a country, food waste would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gas behind the United States and China. With the IPCC recently raising the alarm about the urgency to reduce global warming, it’s clear that reducing food waste is integral to the battle against climate change.

The recent progress report WRAP worked on with WRI for the Champions 12.3 network warned that whilst there have been some great successes, particularly in the business sector, there is still a lot more to do if the world is to achieve the SDG Target 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030. 

And at home, household food waste has plateaued, requiring a bold and radical rethink of how we help citizens to play their part. We also need to ensure that the focus on plastic pollution, which WRAP is leading through The UK Plastics Pact, does not have an adverse effect on food waste.  The warming and acidification of our oceans caused by carbon dioxide emissions are as much a threat as plastic pollution. 

Awards are a huge boost; but we need to keep our eye on the ultimate prize: living in a world in which resources are used sustainability so that people and planet can thrive. The energy, focus and determination I saw amongst all the shortlisted initiatives in Copenhagen instilled a real hope in me that this can be achieved.