In the last few years, consumer awareness of food waste has grown considerably. Now nearly two-thirds of U.S. grocery shoppers say they are concerned or very concerned about the issue, according to a recent poll commissioned by Sealed Air, a global manufacturer of food and consumer goods packaging.
Despite growing awareness, many misconceptions prevail that hinder effective action. Most American grocery shoppers don't think their households are wasteful or part of the problem. There is also a mistaken belief that food packaging contributes to food waste, instead of appreciating its role in preserving food. Such misconceptions are important to reduce the estimated one-third of all food that is wasted globally.
As part of a company vision to cut food waste and promote food security, Sealed Air is engaging its 24,000 employees as 'ambassadors to food waste prevention.' Sealed Air teamed up with Love Food, Hate Waste, with the goal to reach all employees in all regions by the end of 2016. The initiative includes training employees on purchasing, planning, storing and preparing foods – ideally shifting wasteful behaviors and sharing useful information with customers and communities.
The program includes two main components. An interactive global online tool with blog posts, podcasts, recorded webinars, competitions, food-waste journals, recipes and quizzes helps the company spread its wealth of knowledge on the topic with employees, and employees share insights with each other, while taking advantage of support materials from Love Food, Hate Waste. Local food waste educational workshops are offered at sites with more than 100 employees and are tailored to the needs of employees in specific countries.
As highlighted in its 2014 Sustainability Report, Sealed Air is embedding sustainability throughout the company, not just in its operations. The employee food waste prevention program is a tangible result, and the first undertaking of this type for Sealed Air. If successful, it has the potential to engage the employees in Sealed Air values around food security and enhancing lives. This can engage employees behind the potential of Sealed Air's products themselves, which prevent food waste, thus mitigating food scarcity.
“Grocery shoppers have troubling misperceptions about food packaging, and mistakenly view it as a contributor to food waste rather than correctly acknowledging its role as food preserver,” said Ron Cotterman, vice president of sustainability for Sealed Air. “We believe that by better understanding where and why food is wasted, we can generate increased awareness and identify opportunities to help change consumer behavior and prevent food waste.”
Engaging its 24,000 employees on this issue not only has the potential to cut food waste, but can also benefit the bottom line and help attract talent, especially if employees see how their jobs can benefit the environment and enhance lives. More than half of recent college graduates across the globe report seeking companies that have strong corporate social responsibility values that align with their own values, and 56 percent would consider leaving a company that didn’t have the values they expected, according to a recent PwC study.
Numerous studies also show a strong relationship between employees’ workplace engagement and a company’s overall performance. A 2013 Gallup poll estimates that a mere 13 percent of workers worldwide are engaged, resulting in $300 billion in lost productivity annually in the U.S. alone, as well as higher rates of absenteeism, safety incidents and turnover. Disengaged employees erode the bottom line, while effective corporate social responsibility initiatives are a powerful tool in attracting and retaining talent.
Food waste is likely to be a cause that has wide appeal, as food is an important element in all of our lives and its waste has broad social and environmental costs.
“Food binds us to the best times of our lives – think birthday parties, weddings, lunch-time dates, dinner with families and friends, eating out," Lubna Edwards, director of global sustainability and partnerships for Sealed Air, told TriplePundit. "But there's an awful reality – too much food is being wasted with devastating social, environmental and economic impacts.”
Image credit: Flickr/jbloom
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.