At The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), we have been concerned with food waste since 2015, when we launched our Board Resolution to reduce waste in our members’ supply chains and meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. Now, we have taken that resolution further by developing a Coalition of Action of committed and highly motivated companies to accelerate progress towards SDG 12.3. As we recognise the challenge of food loss and waste on this International Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Day, I want to take a moment to explore an essential part of this challenge: awareness itself.

Food waste is a massive problem worldwide, with one-third of all food produced going to waste, contributing to severe environmental impacts, massive economic losses, and unacceptable rates of global hunger. But for many, their only insight into this global problem is through a window close to home, wherein they can examine their own methods of consumption. However, not all consumers are in the habit of keeping an eye on how much food they throw away. This may be especially true for those who have secure access to food and who can toss it out without having to worry about whether they will be able to purchase more. On the contrary, for those who experience food insecurity, food is a precious resource one can simply not afford to waste.

Consumer efforts to reduce waste are indeed important, but when you learn that one-third of all the food produced is lost at the post-harvest level—meaning just after production—you realise there is a significant amount of food never even making it to the grocery stores or consumers’ shopping carts. There is so much happening behind the scenes of the supply and sale of food, and we have been able to see only some of these details as the Covid-19 pandemic in particular has impacted food systems worldwide. We’ve especially seen increased rates of post-harvest losses, an area of concern we’ve known about for years.

That’s why our new Coalition of Action on Food Waste has made data collection, measurement and public reporting its first priority in order to achieve its goal of halving food loss in member supply chains by 2030. Without the numbers and the knowledge to understand just how much food is being lost between producers, retailers and consumers—and importantly, why—our efforts to tackle the problem will be fruitless.

Moreover, increased transparency and public reporting are widely recognised as key triggers for rapid internal action and help build consumer trust in companies’ engagements on the issue. The members of the Coalition—some of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers—are in a prime position to take action against food waste. They are particularly motivated to align their measurement efforts by using a common metric which will allow them to have a clear understanding of the scale of the issue. This would also help them develop targeted strategies for addressing food loss and waste in their own supply chains.

When we started working with the World Resources Institute (WRI) in 2016, we supported its development of the Food Loss and Waste Protocol, an international reporting metric developed through a multi-stakeholder collaboration. Today, our 16 Coalition members are working to learn how to take this protocol further, leveraging technology and data analysis to learn to what extent food is being wasted in their supply chains and how they can remedy such losses. They are exploring, for example, a new tool called the Food Waste Atlas from the WRI and Wrap UK. With all 16 Coalition members using the Atlas, they will be able to present a harmonised view of the food waste problem and be better prepared to take collective action towards addressing it.

It’s these types of innovative tools that help bring clearer and aligned awareness to industry actors which equips them for stronger action and impact. Continuing to research and report on the scale of the problem, plus envisioning possible solutions, is key to continuing the dialogue on food waste and reaching SDG 12.3. We’ve seen in the past how concrete data helps fuel this progress, like when the CGF and Champions 12.3 were able to quantify the return of investment on addressing food waste ($14 for every $1 invested), supporting the business case against food waste. Important insights from researchers, like this recent report from the ECR Retail Loss Group which offers recommendations for grocery retailers, also provide the industry new ideas from a fresh perspective. 

Finally, the “collective” aspect of collective understanding and action remains a central foundation for all of this work. Calling on each other to take action, as I did last week with Champions 12.3, motivates and fuels progress. I participated in several conversations last week with Champions 12.3 and other stakeholder groups like the Barilla Foundation during New York Climate Week, and it’s clear that continuing these dialogues is incredibly important for not only keeping food waste a top priority on our sustainability agendas, but for asking the critical questions and unlocking some of the solutions we need to fix our food systems. We must be open, honest and transparent about what we know and what we don’t. One thing I know is, the future of our food systems depends on it. 

This post was written and contributed by:

Wai-Chan Chan
Managing Director
The Consumer Goods Forum