Food loss and waste, for example, results in roughly $940 billion in economic losses globally per year. It consumes one-quarter of all water used by agriculture each year, requires land area greater than the size of China to be grown, and generates eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. Putting this in perspective, if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet—surpassed only by China and the United States. And in a world where one in nine people are undernourished, the fact that more than a billion tons of food never gets consumed is a travesty.
By now you’ve probably heard that about 1/3 of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. And you’ve likely heard about all the impacts this huge inefficiency causes.
But have you heard that there is a strong financial case for tackling food loss and waste? Earlier this year, WRI and WRAP published a report on behalf of Champions 12.3 that looked at the pure financial returns to businesses of investing in measures to reduce food loss and waste. We gathered data from 1,200 sites across 700 companies, spanning 17 countries. We looked at the costs they incurred to quantify their food loss and waste, buy new equipment, re-engineer processes, train staff, and pursue related reduction measures. We also looked at the financial benefits they realized from getting more product to market, buying less food inputs, avoiding landfill fees, and more.
The results surprised even the authors. Nearly every site had a positive return, where the financial benefits were greater than the financial costs—and we didn’t cherry pick the sites! In fact, half of the sites had a benefit to cost ratio greater than 14:1. In other words, a business site earned more than 14 dollars for every dollar invested. Now that’s a good investment!
One common feature of these sites was that they measure their food loss and waste. We’ve all heard the old adage that “what gets measured gets managed.” This is true for food loss and waste, as well. Measurement is important for identifying “hotspots” that need attention and for setting a baseline against which to monitor progress over time.
But have you heard that more and more companies, including The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) members, are starting to measure their food loss and waste? Examples include Ahold Delhaize, Campbell Soup Company, Danone, Kellogg Company, Nestlé, Sobey’s, Tesco, Walmart, and more. Accounting for one’s food loss and waste in conformance with the Food Loss and Waste Protocol’s Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard is part of the CGF’s landmark Food Waste Resolution of 2015. The FLW Standard was co-created by CGF, WRI, WRAP, WBCSD, FAO, UNEP, and EU FUSIONS as part of the Food Loss and Waste Protocol.
It may feel daunting to quantify your company’s food loss and waste. But have you heard the practical steps companies are taking to conduct inventories, how they secured management support, how they overcame obstacles, and what the results have been? If you haven’t, then join me and an impressive line-up of companies at CGF’s Sustainable Retail Summit in Montreal (October 2-3). The Summit will feature a number of companies who will share their experiences with measuring food loss and waste and who will describe the actions they’ve taken to fulfill the CGF’s Food Waste Resolution.
The Summit provides an opportunity to hear first-hand how others have done it and to pose those detailed, practical questions we often wish there were someone to ask. And in the meantime, I encourage you to read some case studiesprepared for the FLW Protocol on how some other companies have measured their food loss and waste and developed reduction strategies.
So when it comes to “measure to manage” food loss and waste, we can no longer say that we haven’t heard.
This post was written and contributed by:
Global Director of Food, Forests & Water
World Resources Institute