Investment needed to supercharge food waste reduction in businesses and make them future proof

Claire Kneller, Head of Global Food

How to survive is understandably the main priority for hard-hit businesses as they salvage what they can from the wreckage of lockdown. But those which go on to thrive will have used this unique moment to invest in changes to their business which hardwire in resilience to future shocks.

Those who take a myopic view and shelve sustainability do so at their peril. The pandemic was a dress rehearsal for the arguably bigger challenge on the horizon: the existential threat of climate change. Short term interventions only are simply papering over the cracks.

This is particularly evident in the food and drink sector. It has taken a pandemic to expose what those of us working in food sustainability have known for some time: our global system is broken. It is failing to tackle hunger, fuelling an obesity-linked health crisis, and is a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. 

And it is grotesquely wasteful. Even before our supply chains ruptured, we were wasting one third of all the food produced in the world – at huge costs to the economy and the environment.

At WRAP, we recognised the benefits to be had from tackling food waste many years ago. We know this is an often overlooked, but indispensable, strategy for achieving the sustainable food system the world needs.

But in a period of economic uncertainty, how do we create the climate and conditions to enable businesses to invest in measures like food waste reduction? 

It’s worth remembering that the clock has not stopped ticking (in fact it’s got louder) on the day of reckoning on our global commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – just ten years away. So, we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball.

Now more than ever we think this will only be possible if we can achieve two things: drive investment into the market that rewards both financial and environmental performance; and two – build the capability and capacity of the market to go after that investment.  

I’m very excited by a fledgling project I am working on this very moment which aims to achieve exactly that. 

FLAWLESS (Halving Food Loss and Waste by Leveraging Economic Systems), funded by the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals (P4G), we believe has the potential to supercharge efforts in food waste reduction and take it to the next level so we can meet our 2030 goals and make businesses future-proof.

In collaboration with an impressive array of partners, we will be working in Mexico, South Africa and Indonesia to replicate the success of our Courtauld Commitment – the world-leading voluntary agreement which brings together businesses across the supply chain to work collaboratively on food waste reduction. This collaboration, underpinned by government policy, helps creates the right powerful conditions which attract investment and has helped the UK reduce its food waste by 27%, over halfway to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.  

For example, one way of achieving the massive savings we know can be made through reducing food waste in the hospitality sector is to invest in technology which can help measure that waste. The tough road to recovery requires that any efficiencies should be grasped with both hands but with massive losses of revenue, there is no cash to do this right now.

Companies like Leanpath offer technology which is already helping thousands of businesses to make savings of up to 8% on their purchasing costs. Their current model as a ‘software as a service’ company involves a traditional purchase – the client makes an investment in Leanpath’s technology and saves money by utilizing it in operations.

What if we could flip that around and drive investment into Leanpath using the ‘efficiency as a service’ model to enable hospitality businesses to pay off the cost of the product not with up front capital expenditure but through the savings?  We will be working with Leanpath, Citibank and others to build this model and bring it to market because showing the market that it can be done is better than telling the market it can be done.

Another example is that of carbon credits.  We’re all familiar with personal offsetting schemes, things like donating £5 to plant trees to offset your holiday flights, but what if you could do this with food waste reduction, which we already know reduces carbon emissions?

While we’re still waiting for the regulated carbon market to be re-established, there are voluntary markets that trade carbon credits on global trading platforms.  We will be working with partners on models which can make this approach work with food waste reduction. We believe that if the reductions and the cost of carbon are high enough, there could be multi-million-pound trading opportunities to be had – incentives which could supercharge food waste reduction.

The scale of the impact of Covid-19 cannot be underestimated, but it has also highlighted the power of collaborative working; it has challenged old ways of thinking and unleashed innovation. It feels as if we are at a crossroads: either turning back to the past or positively forward to a stronger future which is fairer for all and protects our planet. Let’s grasp the opportunity to weld innovative thinking with financial backing so we cannot just survive but thrive.