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Waste Not
#SB15sd Workshop Explores Engaging, Equipping Key Players to Solve Food Waste at Scale

On the opening afternoon of SB ’15 San Diego, a much-anticipated workshop on reducing food waste — featuring Sally Uren, Chief Executive of Forum for the Future, and Raphael Bemporad, Chief Strategy Officer for BBMG — provided an interactive and enthusiastic forum on the subject, engaging audience members from all sectors for both personal and professional reasons.

Bemporad began by reminding everyone that to make lasting change we need a better understanding of the human heart as it relates to sustainability and particularly food.

“We need to scale great ideas to work bigger and faster,” Bemporad said. “How do we connect to people to meet their needs, and then how do we connect them to businesses?” Most of the session was then devoted to brainstorming great ideas to mitigate food waste and thinking deeply about barriers and how to scale them.

Uren emphasized that to achieve a lasting impact and scale up quickly, we have to apply systems thinking to solve sustainability challenges. To Uren, food waste is a particularly critical systemic issue as it’s connected to a number of other challenges, most notably water shortages and climate change.

“We have enough food to feed everyone, we’re just wasting it,” said Uren “Focusing on food waste builds resilience back into the system.”

Currently, there are several food-waste reduction campaigns in motion. Uren referenced the recent law passed in France banning supermarkets from throwing out food and making it illegal to waste food at home. Additionally, the Ugly Carrot campaign in the UK is also underway, aimed at getting markets to accept non-traditionally shaped and colored produce as the UK throws out up to 20 percent of their harvest because the food doesn’t “look right.”

With all these campaigns out there, why is there still so much food waste?

“It’s because there’s no additionality; there’s individual brand activity, but we’re not harnessing the whole market. It’s a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution,” posited Uren.

Some barriers to breakthrough solutions also included:

  • Cheap food
  • Confusing sell-by and use-by dates
  • Rigid regulations
  • Narrative of obesity
  • Lack of education/awareness
  • Convenience
  • A fundamental disconnect between people and their food

Bemporad then presented opportunities for solutions. He suggested that “rooting the ideation in the world of the consumer” yields a more systemic view. In the last year, BBMG conducted a study, Waste Not Want Not, which examined the eating, cooking and waste habits of 122 households. Each primary household member kept a journal documenting their thoughts and feelings around food waste as well as a detailed account of everything consumed and wasted. 39 percent said they threw out food once a month and third said they threw food out once a week.

A quick round of introductions revealed a wide variety of perspectives in the audience. Representatives from The World Food Program, Unilever, Target, MGM, Sealed Air and many more shared their reasons for engaging dialogue on food waste.

Bemporad and Uren arranged five teams to brainstorm ways to help consumers reduce food waste using insights and inspiration. Each team then presented its favorite idea which included everything from packaging that changes color depending on the edibility of the food eliminating sell-by/use-by labels, to smart fridges that can tell you what’s going bad, remind you what’s still in there and adjust temperatures accordingly.

Uren then explained Forum for the Future’s Scaling Up Framework and the six steps to significant change.

  1. Experience the need for change
  2. Diagnose the system
  3. Create pioneering practices
  4. Enable the tipping
  5. Sustain the transition
  6. Set the rules of the new mainstream

According to Uren, the battle against food waste still lies between steps three and four. She also noted that it’s important to integrate the right players at the right time. For example, government regulations and campaigns won’t be effective in the early stages if people don’t believe there’s a problem, but will be very effective later on in sustaining the transition.

“Take Edison and electricity in Manhattan; he wasn’t the first to invent the light bulb, but he was the first to make the right price point and find investors on Wall Street,” said Uren.

The real task is finding the right ‘levers’ to pull that will enable your business to scale up. Levers include everything from product and service innovation, to standards and ratings to replicable business models, to end-user demand, to catalyzing platforms like the Courtauld Commitment (which started in 2005). Uren was quick to point out that no one lever is effective on its own; they must be pulled in concert to create a lasting impact.

After explaining the levers and how sustainable businesses can scale up their food-waste reduction programs, the teams were asked to go back to their original ideas and decide which one to scale and how, using a BBMG worksheet that helps leaders think about appropriate levers and campaign design.