EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Why reducing food waste is important and attainable

This op-ed by Champions 12.3 member Michel Landel, CEO of Sodexo, appeared in Reuters on January 5. 

Across the globe, more than one-third of food that is grown and produced for human consumption ends up lost or wasted. And in the U.S., where one in five children face the risk of going hungry, food waste represents the third-largest category of waste in landfills. In America alone, $218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten. Those numbers don’t even address the social impact of food waste, a facet that is often overlooked, perhaps because it is more difficult to quantify.

In order to address food waste, we must understand the social impacts of this global challenge. The food and catering service industry has a unique opportunity to further move the needle on this problem, but in order to make that happen at scale, we need to help inform customers so they understand and support the food waste reduction challenge. I believe that Sodexo has an important role to play in giving voice and information around this important issue.

My support for global initiatives to reduce food waste is evident in Sodexo’s role with the Champions 12.3 coalition. It is so named because of the group’s dedication to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3—the target is to cut food waste in half at the retail and consumer levels as well as to reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest, by 2030.

This is a particularly important issue because it speaks to so many facets of Sodexo’s mission: to improve the quality of life of our employees and all whom we serve, and to contribute to the economic, social and environmental development of the communities, regions and countries in which we operate. The industry recognizes the focus Sodexo places on such goals, as well: It was named for the 12th consecutive year by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) as the top sustainable development company in its industry.

One way we are working to achieve the goal of decreasing food waste is through partnerships. In tangent with our global efforts, in the U.S. we made a commitment to the Zero Food Waste to Landfills initiative. We’ve are also implementing an initiative within our business called WasteWatch, a comprehensive program to prevent and reduce food waste. In 2014, we piloted it at 75 U.S. campuses and achieved an average reduction of 48.5 percent in pre-consumer food waste.

At the production and supply chain level, whenever and wherever possible, Sodexo strives to form relationships with local farmers, growers and suppliers to provide closely sourced produce for our sites as one way to contribute to the solution of reducing food waste. These relationships remind us that addressing food waste not only helps protect the environment, it is also an important step in valuing the labor involved in planting, harvesting … all the way to preparing and serving … the food on our plates.

As a services company with quality of life at its heart, Sodexo is in a unique position to look at the social impacts of the food waste crisis. The International Food Waste Coalition SKOOL program we started to deploy this year in schools in Italy, France and the UK was a compelling reminder of how integral food is to our culture and traditions. Working with the Food and Agriculture Organization and founding members of IFWC, we developed an effective food waste management program that saved 2.5 tons of food waste—that’s more than 4,500 meals.

Each school implemented the program through practices that were in line with how their own specific culture sees food and the social aspect of eating and enjoying a meal. In the recent Roadmap to Reduce FoodWaste, a baseline study conducted by ReFed, an organization dedicated to ending food waste, Sodexo looked at behavioral changes that can reduce waste. Serving appropriate portions is one example; another is cooking food to order toward the end of the meal service instead of keeping displays stacked to the brim with food that will be thrown away at closing time.

At the consumer level, Sodexo teams are given flexibility to come up with solutions customized to each client. I’ll cite an example that addresses food waste from several angles: Our senior-care team in France came up with an initiative that considers—and values—the labor that goes into food preparation as well as the cultural importance of sitting down to enjoy a meal. Blended food can be essential for people who have lost the ability to chew and swallow, but it can also deprive them of the joy of a meal and lead to greater food waste because of its unpalatable nature.

Our new approach, called Mix Less, Eat Better, aims to give seniors back their enjoyment of meals. We believe this program will have an impact on quality of life for not just senior-care residents and their families, but also for our staff who will know that their efforts in preparing these meals are valued. And we believe that the program’s benefits will amplify, as less waste results from food that is more palatable and presented in a more pleasing way.

I encourage everyone reading this to think about the value of sitting down to enjoy and share a meal with family and friends, as well as the difference they can make by reducing the amount of food that goes to waste. Remember that food that’s thrown out can never feed anyone, and it adds to our collective financial and environmental burden.

For corporations, collaboration at each step across the entire value chain is key to making a difference in reducing food waste. And that is what Sodexo strives for, at every level of our operation, because we recognize that our goals of positively impacting local communities and the quality of life of everyone with whom we interact cannot be achieved without understanding and collaboration.