Food waste has proven to be an intractable problem. According to the United Nations, about 30 percent of all food produced gets lost along the supply chain, dragging a heavy chain of carbon emissions and other impacts along with it. That data point rings with irony as the global numbers on malnourishment remain stubbornly high. Now it appears that the business community has finally connected the dots between food waste and the hunger crisis and is in position to take concrete action.
Enlisting the power of leaders to lead on food waste
One sign of positive change is evident in the meteoric growth of the 10x20x30 global initiative on food waste.
The private-sector project launched just over 12 months ago, under the wing of the World Resources Institute (WRI). It builds on the efforts of the Champions 12.3 coalition of private sector, government and civic leaders.
Champions 12.3 is on a mission to promote the ambitious goal of cutting global food waste at the retail and consumer levels in half by 2030, in accordance with Target 12.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG Target 12.3 also calls for reducing food losses along the production and supply chain, including harvest-related losses.
The 10x20x30 initiative was announced in September 2019 with only a handful of founding private-sector partners, including Aeon, Ahold Delhaize, Carrefour, Ikea Food, Kroger, Metro AG, Pick n Pay, The Savola Group, Sodexo, Tesco and Walmart. Though few in number, those companies wield considerable influence globally.
“Participants include five of the 10 largest food retailers in the world, the world’s second largest food service provider, and leading food retailers in regions such as southern Africa and the Middle East. Combined, participants operate in more than 80 countries,” WRI pointed out last year.
Momentum builds on food waste solutions
The numbers in the title of the 10x20x30 initiative refer to a pledge from each of the 10-plus partners to enlist 20 of their leading suppliers in the effort to halve food waste by 2030.
The power of a few influential corporations to make change was demonstrated last month when Champions 12.3 announced that the partners have already enlisted almost 200 of their suppliers.
Each of the suppliers has committed itself to the target-measure-act strategy advocated by Champions 12.3. In addition to setting a 50 percent waste reduction goal, the strategy also commits each supplier to measuring their food waste and taking concrete steps to reach the 50 percent goal.
Dave Lewis, who is an executive at Tesco and the chair of Champions 12.3, made it clear that this is only the beginning. “The good news is action is replacing talk. 10x20x30 is a great example of how companies are working in partnership with food suppliers to tackle this issue from farm to fork and I now urge others to follow their example,” Lewis said.
Leading by example
Though the target-measure-act strategy may seem overly simplistic, it has proven to create a framework for rapid change.
Champions 12.3 cites the example of Tesco, which asked 27 of its suppliers to take on the strategy in 2017.
“Now 71 of the retailer’s suppliers have published data on their food loss and waste. Their collective efforts contributed to the United Kingdom’s announcement earlier this year that the country has reduced food loss and waste by 27 percent since it began measuring wasted food in 2007 — making it the first nation in the world to surpass the halfway mark toward SDG Target 12.3,” explains Champions 12.3.
Food waste and the hunger connection
The 10x20-30 initiative draws attention to the need for holistic food waste solutions. In the context of persistent, widespread malnutrition, Champions 12.3 makes the case that food waste represents an inexcusable moral failure.
Approximately 10 percent of the world’s population experiences the impacts of malnutrition, and the numbers threaten to rise on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis. The element of global hunger is also reflected in the economic impacts of the pandemic.
“Farm-level losses have increased in many countries as distribution has been disrupted and restaurants and other hospitality businesses have reduced operations,” Champions 12.3 observes. “Addressing food loss and waste in a food business’s operations is a key strategy for ensuring a sustainable business as well as a sustainable food future.”
Next steps for combating food waste
The 10x20x30 initiative does not claim to have the solution for all food waste challenges, but it does provide a platform for retailers and their suppliers to share innovative solutions and investment opportunities while tightening up their own operations.
Recent years have already seen an increased interest in rescuing food at the supermarket and retailer level, and the 10x-20x30 initiative provides its partners with a platform for extending those efforts to reach individual consumers.
In one such example, Kroger has taken note of consumer surveys that indicate a rising concern over food waste prevention, which researchers have linked to a rise in the number of home-prepared meals during the COVID-19 crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also underscored how much more work remains to be done at the supermarket and restaurant level. Here in the U.S., a massive amount of produce went to waste in the fields after COVID-19 plunged the food service and hospitality sectors into crisis, indicating a significant underlying imbalance between food production and consumption.
As researchers study the impacts of COVID-19 on food systems and hunger, the 10x20x30 initiative all but guarantees that hundreds of companies are poised to take advantage of lessons learned, leading to a more efficient and equitable management of global food supplies.
Image credit: PxHere
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.