You are here

Blog Posts: food waste

  • 4 Young People Providing Inspiring Solutions to Environmental Problems

    I recently went to the One Young World Environmental Summit at Arizona’s Biosphere 2. One Young World is a non-profit organization aimed at bringing together students and young professionals to create new connections and find answers to pressing challenges. A powerful message came through: While young people are one of the groups most affected by environmental problems like climate change, they are also the most innovative in terms of fighting for a better world.

    A great example of this spirit are Kris and Anna, brother and sister from the native American Paiute tribe in the Owens Valley of Southern California.

    Following a war between native tribes and the U.S. army in the mid-19th century, the U.S. government took control of the Paiute territory and its resources. Natives were resettled to less fertile parts of the land, and white settlers took over land and water. The Paiute became increasingly disenfranchised, especially with construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the early 20th century, which diverted much of the water the tribe depended on.

    But things are starting to change. Recently, documents have been discovered showing that the Paiute have used irrigation canals on the land before settlers arrived there. These documents could be the key to proving in court that the tribe has rightful ownership of the land and resources through customary land tenure. This is where Kris and Anna come in. Anna is studying law with a focus on indigenous issues to be able to better understand the legal framework and help her tribe renegotiate their water rights. Anna and Kris are also actively involved in producing a movie to raise awareness about the Paiute tribe’s struggle for water rights.

    They were just two of many young people at the conference who are taking action to improve the lives of people in their communities and around the world. Komal Ahmad, for example, realized as an undergraduate at Berkeley that a ton of food at her campus was being thrown away, while some people were going hungry just a few blocks away. Food loss and waste is not just a hunger issue, it’s an environmental and economic one: WRI research shows that it is responsible for 8 percent of global GHG emissions and costs the world $940 billion a year. Komal’s solution to the problem was to create COPIA, which brings leftover food from campuses and big catering events to nearby nonprofits such as homeless shelters and food banks.

    Leroy Mwasaru from Kenya started a project in his high school to generate biogas from waste and turn it into energy. He later founded a company around this idea, and has since won several big innovation prizes. He now travels around the world speaking at events like One Young World, even though he is just out of high school.

    What I took with me from this event was the sense that even though we as humanity face many problems, the passion and creativity of young people all over the globe is a strong force to make the world a better place. It is a force that unites us. Getting to know others and seeing the great work they are doing is a big motivation for me to continue working on the pressing challenges of our time.

  • Better Buying Lab Aims to Accelerate Demand for Sustainable Food

    The latest food trend isn’t a particular cuisine or exotic ingredient; it’s sustainability. Nearly 75 percent of Americans think sustainability is important when deciding what food to buy. The food industry has noticed. In Britain, close to half of those surveyed across the food industry say their customers want more sustainable food options.

    The new Better Buying Lab -- a partnership with major companies including Google, Sainsbury’s, Hilton Worldwide and other leaders in the food industry – aims to help accelerate this trend.

    There’s good reason for this change in food preferences. WRI’s Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future found even small changes in diet can have big environmental impacts. Foods such as meat and dairy put much more pressure on land, water and climate than plant-based foods. If the average American cut their consumption of animal-based protein in half, they would decrease the land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with their diet by 43 to 45 percent. Applied to 2 billion of the world’s high consumers of protein, this would free up 1.5 billion acres (640 million hectares) of agricultural land, an area roughly twice the size of India.

    As Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of WRI, says, “If we want to feed a growing population without straining natural resources, we have to do more than change mindsets; we have to change diets.”

    Why then -- given the recognized benefits of plant-based diets and the growing number of people who want to consume sustainable foods – don’t more people change what they eat?

    Changing Behavior Isn’t Easy, But It Is Doable

    Shopping for food at the supermarket or ordering from a favorite restaurant involve deeply habitual and sub-conscious decision-making processes. Shoppers tend to rely on routine. Rarely do they notice new information and remember it, let alone act on it. When it comes to food, many people make buying decisions on auto-pilot.

    So it’s no surprise that past government and NGO efforts to encourage more plant-based diets, which have largely centered around information campaigns, haven’t moved many people to change their diets. A broader set of strategies that target how customers actually make purchasing decisions can be more effective.

    We have some examples to learn from. Just take the UK’s shift to lower-alcohol drinks. In 2011, the government set a challenge for the beverage industry to remove 1 billion alcohol units from people’s diets by 2015. The industry saw lower-alcohol beers as part of the solution, but it hadn’t yet found a way to make them popular. 

    The beverage industry started by identifying what prevented people from wanting to choose lower-alcohol drinks. They found that alcohol is an important taste factor and removing it makes a beer less enjoyable, while there was no compelling reason for consumers to choose a lower-alcohol beer.

    In 2012, Molson Coors launched Carling Zest, a beer with 2.8 percent alcohol – compared to the average beer’s 4.8 percent -- and which was amped up with lemon, lime and ginger flavors. It was marketed as the refreshing choice, and Molson Coors invested in advertising and promotional displays in stores. In addition, the UK government decreased taxes on lower-alcohol drinks and increased taxes on beers with 7.5 percent or higher alcohol. Sales took off, other companies launched their own drinks, and -- coupled with a slight decrease in the alcohol content of all major beers -- by 2013 the UK had reached its goal of reducing the number of alcohol units consumed by over a billion.

    In all of the examples WRI has analyzed, we have found that change happened when businesses identified the barriers to adopting something new and developed creative strategies to overcome them. WRI’s Shift Wheel, a framework for strategies to create changes in consumption, was developed based on examples like the UK beverage industry’s success.

    Pioneering Sustainable Food Strategies

    Researchers have uncovered a wide range of barriers that prevent more people from adopting diets rich in sustainable, plant-based foods, offering valuable insights into why people choose the foods they do. But there’s more to unearth about these barriers and how to turn knowledge into action.

    The Better Buying Lab takes a fresh approach to help people eat more sustainable food. By engaging a diverse group of marketing experts and industry partners, the Lab aims to examine the barriers to sustainable food consumption and create innovative strategies to help consumers make sustainable food choices.

    By bringing together the brightest minds from consumer research, behavioral economics and marketing strategy, along with companies in the food industry, the Lab will research, test and ultimately scale new strategies and actions that enable consumers to choose more sustainable products.

    The Lab’s partners include leading companies such as Google, Sainsbury’s, Hilton Worldwide, Quorn and Triniti Marketing. Membership is growing, and the Lab will release its first findings later this year.

    In the meantime, we invite you to learn more by visiting the Better Buying Lab’s website, Engage with us on Twitter using #BetterBuyingLab. If you’re interested in becoming a member, email us at

  • Want to Reduce Your Food Loss and Waste? New Guidance Can Help

    This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

    Around the globe, about one-third of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste. It rots, gets lost in transport or is simply left on our plates. The impact of this loss extends beyond just food: Production of food that is wasted uses 24 percent of all agriculture-related water, causes 8 percent of all human-created greenhouse gas emissions, and costs consumers, farmers and businesses up to $940 billion per year.

    Last year's Sustainable Development Goals, signed by more than 193 countries, included a target to halve food waste by 2030, while some businesses have set even more ambitious deadlines. In 2015, The Consumer Goods Forum - a coalition of more than 400 of the world's largest manufacturers, retailers and service providers - resolved that its members should halve food waste from their own operations by 2025.

    One major hurdle to meeting these commitments has been a lack of consistent guidance. The recent Global Green Growth Forum in Copenhagen addressed this need with the launch of the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard). This is the first-ever global guidance for businesses, governments and other groups to measure and report on their food loss and waste.

    What to Measure, How to Measure

    The new FLW Standard establishes consistent definitions, requirements and guidelines on what companies need to measure and how they should measure it. Companies that use the guidance will be better able to quantify how much food loss and waste occurs in their operations and supply chains, understand where it goes, and set baselines and measure progress against targets. Armed with this information, companies can develop smarter strategies and increase the efficiency of their supply chains.

    As members of Champions 12.3, we are convinced that if we work together we can develop effective solutions to reduce food loss and waste, helping the world meet Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3, which aims to cut food waste by 50 percent by 2030. Launched in January 2016, Champions 12.3 is a coalition of leaders in government, business and the non-profit sector dedicated to inspire ambition, mobilize action, and accelerate progress toward this global goal.

    Achieving Target 12.3 is aligned with Nestlé's goal to achieve zero waste for disposal by 2020. As the leading nutrition, health and wellness company, Nestlé is committed to reducing food loss and waste across its value chain.

    Reducing food loss and waste not only helps Nestlé secure its supply of agricultural raw materials, but it will also have a positive impact on society by supporting rural development, water conservation, and food security. Shockingly, more than 800 million people - one in nine globally - are undernourished. And yet 1 billion tons of food that is produced for people never gets consumed. If we can get more food to more people, this will increase their nutrition intake and improve their well-being, while reducing pressure on natural resources.

    Developing New Strategies

    By measuring food loss and waste, companies can better see and report on where and how food is lost in their supply chains. Increased transparency can, in turn, help companies identify hotspots, develop new strategies and monitor progress. Nestlé, for example, provides regular updates around its efforts and progress to reduce food loss and waste in its annual Nestlé in Society: Creating Shared Value report and through related private and public reporting initiatives.

    The FLW Standard was developed using input and feedback from more than 200 external stakeholders. Nestlé provided input during the standard's development, drawing on pilot tests in its milk supply chain in Pakistan. The Pakistani dairy sector was chosen because of its complexity and high volumes, and because it offered an opportunity to test the efficiency of the company's dairy hub model.

    At each stage of the value chain, Nestlé analyzed all potential causes of wastage using the FLW Standard. Results were impressive. The total milk loss in the company's supply chain was estimated to be only 1.4 percent, significantly lower than average country estimates. Indeed, approximately 15 percent to 19 percent of milk sold by Pakistani farmers is wasted in route to the market, according to a 2004 Asian Development Bank report. Nestlé also found that sharing best practices among farmers contributes to an increase in milk production and less milk being rejected by chilling centers, while improved management at the retail stage could further reduce product losses. We expect that as more businesses use the FLW Standard, they will be able to identify similar opportunities.

    The FLW Standard builds on a precedent. About 15 years ago, WRI teamed up with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to launch the Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Standard, which is now the most widely used and trusted approach for measuring and reporting emissions. We hope the FLW Standard will have similar reach.

    It's a travesty that so much food is lost and wasted. With ongoing collaboration and commitment, we can turn the tide. Those who measure waste can better manage it. That's good news for people, business and the planet.

  • 4 Surprising Reasons to Measure and Reduce Food Loss and Waste

    A full one-third of the food the world produces ultimately goes uneaten. That’s a billion tons of food loss and waste (FLW) every single year.

    There are many good reasons to reduce this loss and waste—food security, economic gains and environmental sustainability, just to cite a few. But many of those most capable of fixing the problem, like governments and businesses, don’t know where to begin.

    That’s why the Consumer Goods Forum, EU FUSIONS, FAO, UNEP, WBCSD, WRAP and WRI are launching the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard), the first-ever global standard to consistently measure FLW. For the first time, countries, cities, companies and others will have a practical method for quantifying how much FLW they’re producing, identifying where it’s coming from and setting measures to reduce it.

    Doing so can yield a suite of benefits:

    1) Financial Gains

    FLW costs the world up to $940 billion a year, so reducing it just makes financial sense. For example, the grocery retailer Stop and Shop/Giant Landover conducted an analysis of which products were spoiling on shelves, and saved an estimated $100 million after changing its purchasing decisions to eliminate products that were not selling. Other retailers like Tesco have generated additional sales and reduced their FLW by selling “imperfect produce.” The grocer sells bumpy or misshapen fruits or vegetables that are perfectly good to eat, but that other supermarkets typically throw away.

    Governments can also help their citizens save money through FLW reduction. After measuring the amount of FLW occurring at the household level in the UK, the charity WRAP, with financial support from the UK government, launched a consumer education program called Love Food Hate Waste. This campaign provides consumers with tips and resources on how to reduce FLW within their homes. Since its launch, consumers have saved 13 billion GBP (almost $19 billion).

    2) Food Security

    About 1 out of every 9 people globally is undernourished, meaning they don’t get enough to eat on a daily basis. Reducing FLW could be an important strategy in making more food available without needing to increase production. According to WRI analysis, cutting the rate of food loss and waste in half could close 20 percent of the nearly 70 percent “food gap” between food available today and what will be needed in the year 2050 to accommodate a larger population.

    Strategies for accomplishing this look different depending on geography. In developing countries, where FLW tends to occur closer to the farm, increased food security can be achieved through infrastructure improvements like better crop storage and appropriate packaging after production to prevent spoilage. This provides smallholder farmers with a stable food source for themselves, their families and to sell for profit.

    And in developed countries, where FLW tends to occur closer to the consumer, increased donation efforts by companies can help food banks and similar charities in their efforts to feed the hungry. Governments can encourage these donations. In France, the Senate passed a law requiring supermarkets of a certain size to donate their excess food, while in the United States, the “Good Samaritan Law” legally protects food donors from legal liability relating to any potential harm from donated food.

    3) Environmental Benefits

    FLW uses a quarter of all water used for agriculture, requires land area the size of China to grow, and contributes 8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. If FLW were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter!

    These global implications may seem abstract, but the environmental benefits of reducing can be felt at the local level. For example, due to the methane generated by FLW and the amount of land needed for landfill facilities, multiple states in New England have instituted bans on sending food waste to landfills. This presents an opportunity to use FLW in other ways. For example, composting facilities turn FLW into a nutrient-rich soil supplement that creates better crop yields, and anaerobic digesters create biogas from FLW to use as a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.

    4) Leadership

    Voluntary standards to reduce FLW are already emerging. The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents 400 companies across 70 countries, adopted a resolution to reduce FLW among its members by 50 percent by 2025, using the FLW Standard to track progress. Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals aims to halve food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030, while also reducing food loss along production and supply chains. Champions 12.3, a coalition of executives from government, business and international organizations, has formed to help achieve that target. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency enacted the country’s first national food waste reduction goal last year, calling for a 50 percent reduction by 2030.

    Governments, businesses and other groups that take action to reduce their FLW will emerge as leaders and demonstrate their support for these emerging national and international standards. They will reap the economic, food security, and environmental benefits of food loss and waste reduction. And they will be ahead of the curve in complying with potential future regulations.

    With global awareness of FLW at an all-time high, it’s time to start making changes in countries, businesses, cities and households. With the FLW Standard, meaningful change is more attainable than ever.

  • Signs of a Growing Movement to Reduce Food Loss and Waste

    Last week I had the pleasure of participating in Feeding the 5000-DC, a huge event where food that otherwise would have been thrown away was cooked up and fed to citizens of Washington, D.C. Just like a similar event in New York City a week earlier (which reached 10,000 meals), thousands of people showed up. And thousands of delicious meals were served, made from misshapen vegetables, unsold rice, stems, and other perfectly edible but typically wasted food bits.

    Events like Feeding the 5000 convince me that we are on the upward swing of a growing movement. It’s a movement that realizes that something dramatic needs to be done to stop the travesty of food loss and waste for the sake of people and the planet.

    Champions of a Cause

    Feeding the 5000 is the brainchild of Tristram Stuart, founder of the NGO Feedback. Stuart is one of Champions 12.3, a unique coalition of leaders from government, the private sector and civil society dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action and accelerating progress toward achieving Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This target seeks to halve food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030, while also reducing food loss along production and supply chains.

    <p>From left to right: Andrew Steer (WRI), Tristram Stuart (Feedback), and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Photo by Craig Hanson/WRI</p>

    From left to right: Andrew Steer (WRI), Tristram Stuart (Feedback), and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Photo by Craig Hanson/WRI

    Quite a few fellow Champions also played roles in the Washington and New York events. Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), donned a chef’s apron and demonstrated recipes for gazpacho and a tomato sandwich, using unsold tomatoes. WRI’s Andrew Steer reminded the audience of the significance of the challenge (see the list of facts below). And organizations led by other Champions helped support the events, including Judith Rodin of The Rockefeller Foundation, Gina McCarthy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Achim Steiner of UNEP and Rhea Suh of NRDC.

    From Problem to Solutions

    By now you may have already read some of the big numbers about food loss and waste:

    • An estimated one-third of all food is lost or wasted from farm to fork every year globally;
    • This amounts to about $940 billion per year in economic losses;
    • Lost and wasted food consumes one-quarter of all the water used by agriculture;
    • It requires land area the size of China to grow; and
    • It contributes 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter, behind China and the United States.

    What we need now are solutions. Here are three starter ideas I think would help accelerate action on reducing food loss and waste:

    1) Set targets.

    The first step is for countries, cities and companies to set food loss and waste reduction targets consistent with SDG Target 12.3. Targets set ambition, and ambition motivates action. Countries like the United States are already leading in this regard, with the USDA and US EPA setting the nation’s first-ever food waste goal—a 50 percent reduction by 2030. The leaders of these two agencies are truly Champions of SDG Target 12.3.

    Industry associations are also are setting targets. The Consumer Goods Forum—representing 400 retailers, manufacturers and service providers across 70 countries—has resolved to reduce food waste from member operations by 50 percent by 2025.

    Wouldn’t it be great if all major U.S. cities set their own reduction targets?

    2) Measure to manage.

    Second, the old adage that “what gets measured gets managed” should be applied to food loss and waste.

    Most countries, cities and companies currently do not quantify how much or where food is being lost or wasted. Moreover, there is a lack of consensus on the definition of food loss and waste, as well as challenges in how to measure it.

    Measuring food loss and waste, however, is becoming easier. Just three weeks from now, WRI along with UNEP, the FAO, WBCSD, the Consumer Goods Forum, EU FUSIONS and WRAP will launch the Food Loss and Waste Protocol. The Protocol will provide internationally consistent definitions, credible methods for quantifying food loss and waste, and transparent approaches for reporting results.

    3) Take action.

    Finally, we all need to take action. In countries the United States, this means things like:

    • Making it easier for safe, unsold food to get onto the plates of those in need;
    • Standardizing food date labeling practices so people don’t throw away safe, edible food;
    • Reducing portion sizes; and
    • Encouraging retailers to supply, and consumers to eat, food too often considered “imperfect” (think bumpy tomatoes or misshapen strawberries). Ugly food is beautiful—and nutritious—to eat!

    Target, measure, act. Following the inspiration of Feeding the 5000, let’s aspire toward a world where no more food goes to waste!

  • Tesco and Others Lend a Helping Hand to Fight Food Waste

    A whopping one-third of all food intended for human consumption is lost or wasted from farm to fork. Let’s take a moment to think about the implications of such inefficiency in the world’s food system.

    Consider food security. In some places, food losses near the farm are predominant (Figure 1) and affect the ability of farmers to make a good living and even at times feed their families. In other places like Europe and North America, food waste near the fork affects the less fortunate. In a world where one in nine people are undernourished, that fact that more than a billion tons of food never gets consumed is a travesty.

    Or consider the economy. Globally, food loss and waste causes about $940 billion each year in economic losses. In sub-Saharan Africa, post-harvest losses amount to up to $4 billion per year. In the United States, food waste in households and restaurants costs an average of $1,500 per year for a family of four and about $1,060 per year for the average household with children in the United Kingdom.

    And then there’s the environment. Food that is harvested but ultimately lost or wasted consumes about one-quarter of all water used by agriculture each year. It requires cropland area the size of China to be grown. And it generates about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. In fact, if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet behind China and the United States.

    So what can be done?  Fortunately, there are some pioneers in efforts to curtail food waste. Many of them are involved in Champions 12.3, a unique coalition of leaders dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action and accelerating progress toward achieving Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. This target calls for cutting in half food waste at retail and consumer levels and for reducing food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

    Champions 12.3 is chaired by Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco, one of the world’s largest food retailers. Tesco is committed to reducing food waste across its operations and has introduced a number of innovations to combat waste.

    The company’s “Community Food Connection” program links its stores with local charities to redistribute the food that is leftover at the end of the shopping day, helping those in need get a meal and reducing food waste from the store. A technology built into the Tesco inventory system sends a text to local charities and community groups about how much surplus food is expected to be available for donation at day’s end. Charities then confirm whether they will collect the food. Working with the NGO FareShare and social entrepreneurs FoodCloud, Tesco piloted the system in 14 stores in 2015, generating 50,000 meals. Currently in the UK, the program is in 150 stores providing the food equivalent of more than 300,000 meals to more than 700 individual charities and community organisations.

    “We know it’s an issue our customers really care about, and wherever there’s surplus food at Tesco stores, we’re committed to donating it to local charities so we can help feed people in need,” said Lewis.

    In addition, Tesco recently started offering “Perfectly Imperfect,” a brand new range of wonky-looking fruits and vegetables. Many grocery stores throw out produce that looks odd or “ugly” due to size, shape, color or texture. But often there’s nothing otherwise wrong with this food—the oblong, bumpy strawberry is just as nutritious as the perfectly shaped one. Recognizing this, Tesco is now making this produce available for purchase at around 200 UK Tesco stores, fresh from a British farm and at prices lower than standard-looking produce.

    “Our customers are telling us that demand for these products is there,” added Lewis. “This is great news in the fight against food waste.”

    On this side of the Atlantic, another Champion recently highlighted innovations in reducing food waste. During the third annual Food Waste & Hunger Summit, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack drew attention to efforts like The Campus Kitchens Project, which engages college and high school students to gather unused food from dining halls, grocery stores, restaurants and farmers’ markets and deliver it to the less fortunate. In just one year, students across 45 U.S. campuses diverted nearly 1 million pounds of food to the needy, providing more than 300,000 nutritious meals.

    “There’s a unique opportunity for young people to say ‘we’re serious about food waste and its consequences’,” said Secretary Vilsack. “We understand that it costs families money, it’s bad for the environment, and we’d prefer to have an ethic that rewards savings and uses food in a way that provides opportunities to take care of food-insecure families.”

    Other Champions of Target 12.3 such as Judith Rodin and Sam Kass, and Shenggen Fan and Andrew Steer, have recently shared additional ideas on how to reduce food loss and waste. Solutions are not in short supply.

    Just think, if the approaches being highlighted by these Champions gain traction, perhaps we can achieve a world where no more food goes to waste.

  • How a Shrub in Africa Made Me Want to Change the Food Industry

    In 2004 I was on my knees scrabbling through the Cameroon rainforest. A keen botanist, I’d signed up as a volunteer with an NGO to help map the forest and search for new species. One day whilst hiking along a surging river, I came across a little shrub, no taller than my knee, peppered with bright blue flowers. Not recognizing the bush, I called over one of the local scientists in our group. He immediately alerted the botany professor who, in turn, got very excited. They had never seen a shrub like it before, and it turned out to be a new species.

    Now as you can imagine, I became rather attached to this little shrub and, with so much deforestation happening in Cameroon, was concerned about its fate. So one night around the camp stove, I pulled the professor aside and asked what his organization would do to help preserve the forest and change the behavior of locals from cutting down trees. He assured me not to worry—they had plans back at the office to make and distribute a poster about caring for the trees and preventing their destruction. “Hmm,” I muttered rather unimpressed, “Is that all?” “No, no” he retorted, “We are also going to do some leaflets!” I walked away from the fire and thought to myself, “This is not good, not good at all.”

    But just how unimpressive the planned response really was didn’t fully hit me until I got back to work. At the time, I worked at Procter and Gamble selling and marketing Pringles potato chips. I was part of a team who knew exactly how to influence people. We developed memorable advertising, with compelling benefits and displays that made people buy. All this for potato chips, while real issues like saving the rainforest weren’t getting any sort of attention from marketing experts.

    An Important New Shift

    I was reminded of this experience about a year ago when Janet Ranganathan from the World Resources Institute (WRI) talked to me about sustainable diets. Their researchers had learnt that the type, combination and quantity of food people eat has an important impact on resource use and the environment—and that meat and dairy, especially beef, were particularly harmful.

    For example, did you know that more than two-thirds of total greenhouse gases from food production comes from meat and dairy, even though they only contribute 37 percent of total protein consumed? And that more than three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land (including pastureland and land that grows crops for livestock feed) is used to produce meat and dairy?

    In contrast, plant-based proteins use far less resources. Not that everyone needs to become vegetarian or vegan—even a moderate shift from high-impact to lower-impact foods can help. For example, WRI found that if the average American halved their meat and dairy consumption, the land use and GHG emissions associated with their diet would be cut by nearly half. Applied to the 2 billion people in the world who are “high consumers” of protein, this would free up 640 million hectares of agricultural land, an area roughly twice the size of India.

    What Will Work?

    WRI’s experts were keen to get my thoughts on how to help people make these diet shifts. To get started, we compiled many of the campaigns around the world that have tried to change meat-eating habits. It was a fascinating exercise, and we noticed a clear pattern. The majority of action so far has involved information campaigns educating consumers about the environmental, health and animal welfare issues of eating meat. A large number of campaigns, especially from the vegetarian and vegan community, advocated for folks to abstain from animal products entirely.

    This activity has clearly shifted a minority of people, but much like the posters in village huts in Cameroon, it hasn’t shifted the majority of people to new behavior patterns.

    Recent marketing and behavioral science has found that most people choose what they buy based on habit, rather than rational, informed decisions. When consumers do deviate from habit, attributes like price, taste and quality tend to be more important than sustainability in changing purchasing decisions.

    Just giving people information and telling them not to eat meat will not shift the mainstream. We need to work in line with how people shop and develop messaging that appeals to mainstream consumers.

    The Shift Wheel

    To help discover more effective ways of changing what people eat, we investigated more than a dozen examples of where consumers had shifted en masse towards more sustainable products. Learning from examples like the shift towards lower alcohol beer in the UK or a reduction in shark fin soup in China, we pinpointed effective strategies and developed a new framework called the Shift Wheel. The Shift Wheel is compromised of four complementary strategies:

    • Minimize Disruption. Changing food consumption behavior typically involves changing ingrained habits. Making differences between one product and another less obvious–by mimicking traits like taste, look, texture, smell, packaging and the product’s location within a store—can help facilitate change. For example, makers of milk alternatives such as soy, almond and coconut milks have launched packaging that looks similar to dairy milk, and have placed their products alongside it in supermarkets. The strategy helped increase consumer demand—for example, U.S. almond milk sales have grown 250 percent in the past five years.

    • Sell a Compelling Benefit. Most consumers are interested in the environment, but only a minority are concerned enough for it to influence what they buy. Delivering on attributes that are the most important to consumers (such as taste or affordability) or finding new ones is important. For example, Birds Eye repositioned its pollock fish sticks as healthier “Omega 3 Fish Fingers” rather than as a sustainable alternative to cod, which is overfished. In doing so, it shifted a large proportion of their consumers to the more environmentally friendly alternative.

    • Maximize Awareness. The more consumers see or think of a product, the greater the chance they will consider purchasing it. Enhancing the availability and display of the more sustainable food choice, and creating memorable advertising campaigns, can increase a product’s attractiveness.

    • Evolve Social Norms. What people eat is highly influenced by their cultural and social environments. Adapting social norms to make a preferred food more desirable than the less sustainable alternative can be influential. For example, to reduce the consumption of endangered sharks in China, WildAid ran a series of advertisements with high-profile celebrities—those that set social norms—declaring their opposition to shark fin soup. In addition, China’s State Council, which also sets norms in its own way, banned shark at official receptions. The results have been clear; the Chinese Ministry of Commerce reported a 70 percent decline in shark fin sales during the Spring Festival period of 2012-2013.

    In nearly all the case studies reviewed, a shift in consumption involved multiple strategies from the Shift Wheel. Shifts also typically involved groups across a range of sectors, including manufacturers, retailers, NGOs and government agencies working in concert.

    Come Join Us!

    We’re now putting our learnings into action to bring about change. We’re forming a group of leading food service companies, food manufacturers and restaurant chains to figure out ways of shifting consumers towards more plant-based proteins.

    The group, called the Better Buying Lab, will be launching later this year. We aim innovate new activity and campaigns that can shift a large number of consumers. If you are interested in becoming involved, contact us at Together, we can help shift diets for a more sustainable future.

  • 3 Steps for Tackling Food Loss and Waste

    This article was originally posted on The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' website.

    An astounding one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted between the farm and the fork. Just think about that for a moment: While nearly 800 million people—one in nine globally—are undernourished, more than a billion tons of food never make it to the table. These inefficiencies in our global food system have serious impacts for nutrition, health and the environment.

    On April 26, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosts a Global Food Security Symposium on “Growing Food for Growing Cities.” The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) are proud Symposium partners. The number of city dwellers will rise by 2.5-3 billion by 2050; meeting the demand for nutritious, safe and sustainable food for cities will be a major challenge. Reducing food loss and waste is an essential part of the solution.

    Food loss and waste not only hampers efforts to adequately feed the world, but also leads to economic losses. Globally, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food worth about $940 billion is lost or wasted each year throughout the entire food supply chain. Annually, about $32 billion worth of food is thrown away in China. In Africa south of the Sahara, where many farmers earn less than $2 a day, post-harvest losses have a value of up to $4 billion per year. Food waste in households and restaurants costs an average of $1,600 per year for a family of four in the United States and about $1,060 per year for the average household with children in the United Kingdom.

    Food loss and waste also contributes to climate change, accounting for about 8 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. To put this in perspective, if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter—surpassed only by China and the United States.

    So how can food loss and waste be addressed? Here are a few ideas for starters:

    1. Set goals

    A first step is to set food loss and waste reduction goals. Goals set ambition, and ambition motivates action. As Champions of Target 12.3 or the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), we encourage countries and companies to set ambitions consistent with this target—which calls for cutting per capita global food waste in half at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.
    Countries such as the United States are already leading, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency setting the nation’s first ever food waste goal: a 50 percent reduction by 2030. So are industry associations like the Consumer Goods Forum, which resolved to reduce food waste from member operations by 50 percent by 2025.

    2. Measure to manage

    We’ve all heard the old adage that “what gets measured gets managed.” The huge rate of food loss and waste should come as no surprise then, since most countries and companies do not quantify how much or where food is being lost or wasted. Moreover, there is a lack of consensus on what defines “food loss and waste,” as well as challenges in how to measure it. Without a common understanding of what the problem is, it is difficult to effectively address it.
    Measuring and finding data on food loss and waste are becoming easier. In December of 2015, IFPRI and FAO launched the Technical Platform on Food Loss and Waste as an outcome of the G20 Agriculture Ministers Meeting in Turkey. The Platform facilitates local, national, and regional level food loss and waste prevention, reduction, and measurement. Among other things, this platform will help users navigate available data around the world and learn best practices in quantification.
    Standardization of food loss and waste measurement is underway, too. The Food Loss & Waste Protocol’s Accounting and Reporting Standard, coordinated by WRI and developed with a suite of partners, is set to launch in June 2016. The Standard will provide credible, practical, and internationally consistent definitions, methods for quantifying food loss and waste, and approaches for reporting results.
    We therefore encourage countries and companies to start quantifying the food loss and waste within their borders, operations, and supply chains. With this base year data, it will be easier to monitor reduction progress over time.

    3. Take action

    Finally, we must take action. By knowing where and how much food is being lost and wasted, one can prioritize actions to tackle the hotspots. Prioritizing what to do is important given constraints faced in terms of political attention, financial resources, and time. 
    Exactly what needs to be done will vary by country and stage of development. We outline a number of suggested actions in the figure below. In developing countries, most food loss occurs during production and storage. Thus investing in better infrastructure to improve storage, processing, and transportation will be critical. In developed countries as well as in rapidly growing urban areas just about everywhere, most food waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. Thus steps to facilitate food donations, improve food date labeling, and better educate consumers will be vital.
    An oft-quoted Chinese proverb states “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The journey to reduce food loss and waste has yet to begin for most countries and companies. Let 2016 be the year we all take that first step.

  • Champions Call to Reduce Global Food Loss and Waste

    Today at the World Economic Forum’s annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, a coalition of 30 leaders launched Champions 12.3, an effort to create political, business and social momentum to reduce food loss and waste around the world. Champions 12.3 is a voluntary coalition of executives from governments, businesses, international organizations, research institutions, farmer groups and civil society (Box 1) dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action and accelerating progress toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 12.3. The target aims to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels, as well as reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

    A Historic Moment

    <p>Dr. Hans Hoogeveen, the Dutch Vice-Minister for Agriculture, called for the formation of Champions 12.3 in September 2015 during the UN General Assembly. Photo by IISD/ENB</p>

    Dr. Hans Hoogeveen, the Dutch Vice-Minister for Agriculture, called for the formation of Champions 12.3 in September 2015 during the UN General Assembly. Photo by IISD/ENB

    The formation of Champions 12.3 comes at a historic time. Just four months ago during the United Nations General Assembly, the countries of the world formally adopted a set of 17 SDGs as a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs are global goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.

    The 12th SDG focuses on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. The third target under this goal, Target 12.3, calls for reducing food loss and waste in order to increase food security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help alleviate poverty. This ambitious yet achievable target has the potential to embed the reduction of food loss and waste firmly in public and private sector strategies around the world.

    A Historic Challenge

    Reducing food loss and waste is a challenge of historic proportion. An astounding share of food is currently lost or wasted between the farm and the fork – 32 percent of all food by weight and 24 percent of all food calories.

    This level of inefficiency has huge economic, social and environmental impacts. Food loss and waste causes $940 billion in economic losses annually. It exacerbates food insecurity and malnutrition. And food that is ultimately lost or wasted consumes about a quarter of all water used by agriculture, is responsible for an estimated 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and requires an area of cropland the size of China. In fact, if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States.

    Reducing food loss and waste, therefore, can deliver a triple win: Saving money for farmers, companies, and households; wasting less to feed more people; and alleviating pressure on climate, water, and land resources.

    A Historic Opportunity

    Champions 12.3 leverages a timely opportunity to mobilize public and private sector capacities to convert Target 12.3 into a reality. One thing the world learned from the Millennium Development Goals that preceded the SDGs is the necessity for a consistent drumbeat of support from top leaders for global targets to be met. This experience underpins the formation of Champions 12.3.

    Champions will inspire action by:

    • Leading by example on how to reduce food loss and waste;
    • Motivating others to meet SDG Target 12.3;
    • Communicating the importance of food loss and waste reduction;
    • Showcasing successful food loss and waste reduction strategies; and
    • Advocating for more innovation, greater investment, better information, and increased capacity to reduce food loss and waste.

    Champions 12.3 will complement ongoing UN efforts such as SAVE FOOD and Think.Eat.Save, as well as other initiatives such as EU FUSIONS, the global Food Loss & Waste Protocol, private sector action and more.

    By lending their voice to new and existing food loss and waste reduction efforts, the Champions have the potential to accelerate progress on an SDG target we all can rally around.

  • 6 Environment and Development Stories to Watch in 2016

    On many levels, 2015 was a turbulent year: the migrant crisis grew, terrorist attacks spiked, and global economic growth slowed. Yet on the bright side, last year saw groundbreaking advances when it comes to the environment and human development. The United Nations formally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 169 targets to end poverty and boost growth while caring for people and the planet. The year ended on high note with 195 nations joining together in establishing the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees C and prevent the most disastrous impacts of climate change.

    So what happens now?

    WRI President and CEO Andrew Steer addressed that question and many more yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the site of WRI’s annual Stories to Watch event. Steer looked ahead to the big topics for the environment, economy and sustainability.

    “2015 introduced a new era of multilateralism,” Steer said. “If 2016 has a theme, it’s going from commitments, design and promises to action.”

    Steer highlighted six issues to keep an eye on for signs that the world is building on progress made in 2015:

    1) The Paris Agreement: Will Momentum Continue?

    Leading up to COP21 in Paris, 187 nations delivered national climate plans, setting the foundation for a strong international agreement. On April 22nd of this year, many countries are expected to formally sign on to the agreement and begin the ratification process. It’s important to see if countries not only sign on, but go beyond promises and make tangible shifts to a low-carbon economy. “Is it taking hold within ministries of finance and planning and agriculture and so on?” Steer asked. “Is there a seriousness here?”

    India is one country to watch, making bold commitments to ramp up solar generation from 3 gigawatts (GW) to 100 GW by 2022. Progress this year will be an important indicator if the country will reach its goal.

    2) New Climate Economy: Will the Message Take Root?

    A decade ago, leaders in business, government and elsewhere thought that climate action came at the expense of strong economic growth. Then, leaders began to see how these two endevors can go hand-in-hand. Today, with research from the New Climate Economy and elsewhere, many thinkers (but not all) understand that sustained, high-quality economic growth actually depends on climate action. In 2016, will more leaders continue this intellectual journey and take the necessary action that follows?

    There are signs they’re already coming around to this line of thinking, especially in the business and city sectors. More than 1,000 companies now support carbon pricing, while 116 have gone even further and committed to set Science-Based Targets, emissions-reduction goals in line with what scientists say is necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change. At the same time, leaders from more than 425 cities have signed onto the Compact of Mayors, a global, voluntary initiative to measure and reduce emissions at the local level. The question now is: Will other business and city leaders join these pioneers?

    3) Green Finance: Will the Financial System Evolve?

    2015 saw progress on important new funding streams for green infrastructure, such as the Green Climate Fund, which has committed to disburse $2.5 billion in financing for low-carbon projects in 2016. But as Steer noted, achieving the kind of transition the world needs will require more than new money—it will mean shifting trillions of dollars toward sustainable growth. According to New Climate Economy, there will be $90 trillion invested in land use, cities and energy systems between now and 2030. The question is which way will this go? Governments and financial institutions are already starting to move toward greener investment pathways, such as France, which now mandates that banks declare environment-related financial risks. Look for more progress during the G20 meeting this year, hosted by China, where green finance is expected to be high on the agenda.

    4) Food Loss and Waste: A Growing Movement?

    Food loss and waste may not feature prominently in the public consciousness, but it should. The world wastes one-third of its food every year, despite the fact that we’ll need to produce 70 percent more calories by 2050 to feed a growing population. If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter (behind China and the United States). And this waste costs nearly $1 trillion a year worldwide, Steer explained.

    This could be the year the world gets serious about curbing food waste. A new SDG calls for halving food loss and waste by 2030. The Consumer Goods Forum, representing more than 400 companies, has already promised to cut its food loss and waste in half by 2025. WRI and partners will release a common international framework to help businesses, organizations and other stakeholders consistently measure and reduce their food loss and waste. And next week in Davos, WRI will launch with government and business leaders a new effort called Champions 12.3, with aims to accelerate progress toward the SDG goal.

    5) China: Will a New Vision Take Hold?

    China is again in the spotlight with challenges to its economy and environment. Air pollution in Beijing and other cities reached such extremes last year that for the first time, the government issued “Red Alerts,” closing schools and businesses. President Xi Jinping recognizes that the country needs to move in a new direction focused on the quality of growth rather than the size of growth. Signs of China’s commitment to action will be evident in its 13th Five-Year Plan, set to be released in March of this year.

    The Plan will build on commitments China has already made, including to peak emissions by 2030 (or sooner) and increase its share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 20 percent. Look for more specific targets in its new Plan, such as more renewable energy targets pre-2020, additional caps on coal production, more low-carbon pilot cities and a rebalancing of the economy from heavy industry and steel to a focus on services. Also, look for China to make progress on its carbon-trading pilots, which are supposed to evolve into a national system in 2017.

    6) U.S. Climate Leadership: Will it Continue?

    “The US has over the past two years become a climate leader, and that wasn’t the case several years before that,” Steer said. Last year, the Obama administration extended renewable energy tax credits, blocked the Keystone XL Pipeline, and, most importantly, finalized the Clean Power Plan (CPP) to reduce emissions throughout the power sector. In addition, the United States played a critical leadership role in bringing countries together around the climate agreement.

    2016 will be the year to seal President Obama’s climate legacy. How will courts rule on states that are challenging the Clean Power Plan? What will states’ CPP implementation plans look like? Will President Obama pursue more executive actions before he leaves office, such as emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and methane in landfills and infrastructure?

    We’ll also watch to see how climate change plays out in the presidential debates and campaigns. Given the stakes, climate change must be part of the national conversation around America’s next leader.

    These are just a few of the many environment and development issues that will garner attention this year. How they progress will provide clear benchmarks for how the world is handling the “big pivot,” as Steer called it, from commitments to concrete action on the ground.

    Did we miss a key story? Share your own ideas on big issues to watch this year in the comments section below. Check out our event page for video and other resources from WRI's Stories to Watch.

Stay Connected