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A decade of action: 10 years to halve global food waste

By Steven M. Finn  ///  January 21, 2020




The new year is a time when we reflect on lessons learned and set new goals with renewed energy and focus.  These themes seem particularly relevant as we enter 2020 – the beginning of a decade of action for hitting the UN Sustainable Development Goals – and, specifically, for hitting Target 12.3, that audacious goal of cutting global food waste in half by 2030.  A goal that, if achieved, will directly benefit many of the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals due to the central nature of food in our lives and the many linkages between food waste and global emissions, water, soil health, plastics, oceans, and biodiversity.

We are at an inflection point regarding our food system for several reasons, most critically global nutrition and climate change – the concept of healthy people and healthy planet.  As the landmark Eat-Lancet Commission report notes, food is “the single strongest lever” we have to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth, and yet at the same time, our food system is threatening to the health of people and planet. The report calls for a “radical transformation” of the global food system to achieve human and planetary health needs. Further, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that over one billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted annually, and that if ranked as a country food waste would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions behind the U.S. and China.

Clearly, significant reduction of food waste must be a key component of the transformation needed to enable a more sustainable global food system.  And the world now has a 10-year window to meet the Target 12.3 goal.

Thankfully, the past decade involved an explosion of awareness on the subject, driven by key research elucidating the scale and impact of global food loss and waste, as well as the emergence of many conferences on food waste; the accelerating work of numerous NGOs (such as WRI and ReFED); the inception of the Sustainable Development Goals and Target 12.3; growing recognition of the importance of measurement as a basis for progress; increased interest in the business case for food waste reduction; and increased understanding of the linkage between food waste, climate change, and multiple SDG challenges. 

So we can accurately summarize the past decade with the words “awareness” and “momentum” – and we should view the coming decade in terms of “action” and “urgency.”

The current inflection point calls for effective, scaled action to reduce food waste in all aspects of the food system.  What can responsible foodservice organizations do to help achieve the Target 12.3 goal? Here are seven tips for the journey:

Change the frame. 

Take pride in the fact that you have contributed to phase one.  Awareness has been raised. Now work on changing the organizational mindset, and lexicon, from one of awareness-raising to action plans and steps to reduce food waste.  Be overt about raising your expectations. It’s time for phase two: a higher bar.

Leverage compelling resources.  

The past decade has provided a multitude of extremely powerful pieces on the importance of reducing, and preventing, food waste.  See WRI’s recent report on 10 interventions to scale food loss and waste reduction, for example.  Utilize these resources to create your organizational story for change. (And if you need help with resources, contact us).

Accentuate your purpose.  

Society’s expectations for companies are changing to include environmental and social stewardship (i.e. sustainable shareholder returns that avoid sacrificing the future for the present).  Make food waste prevention a pillar of your organization’s sustainability strategy, leveraging food’s pivotal role in driving human and planetary health.

Set your goal. 

Make an organizational commitment to cutting your food waste in half in accordance with Target 12.3.  Communicate the goal. Engage your people around food waste prevention. Connect the organization to the global food waste challenge. 

Track and measure. 

Track your food waste, and measure progress toward your goal against a baseline.  Be transparent, making food waste visible, and report on progress. Stay positive, solicit ideas, and celebrate successes in closing the measurement gap.

Prioritize prevention efforts. 

Seek to shift the organizational conversation and focus up the food recovery hierarchy to prevent the occurrence of food waste, for prevention provides the maximum financial and societal benefit.

Collaborate and share. 

Meeting the Target 12.3 goal requires heightened collaboration between organizations.  Share your successes. Seek impactful partnerships. Push expectations of tangible food waste reduction actions through your supply chain. 

We have a new decade to achieve an incredibly important global goal.  Getting there requires a strong and sustained action focus, but will be well worth it.

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Topics: Food Waste Strategies, Food Waste Policy