Food Waste: Carrier Advances Global Dialogue

By Professor Steven Finn

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A few weeks ago I published an initial post (Improve the Cold Chain, Reduce Food Waste) on Carrier’s World Cold Chain Summit to Reduce Food Waste held in Singapore in early December.  The breadth and richness of the Summit warrants additional commentary, as so many critical themes on the potential for food waste reduction through an improved cold chain were discussed over the course of two days.

Throughout the Summit, many of the speakers pointed to the environmental externalities associated with food waste.  Carrier/UTC’s John Mandyck, for example, noted that the carbon footprint of global food waste is 3.3 billion metric tons per year, and that the annual volume of irrigated water going into the production of wasted food exceeds the annual irrigated water usage of any nation.  Mandyck also pointed out the potential to ease ocean acidification by reducing CO2 emissions from wasted food.  He set the table for the two-day conference in stating that “when it comes to food waste, we need an ‘all of the above’ strategy.”  He’s right.

Mandyck also noted that if emerging economies accepted cold chain technologies to the level of developed countries, their GHG emissions would be reduced by 50%.  He then posed the question: When talking about game-changing public policy, why wouldn’t food waste be on the list?  Right again; it should be on national and global agendas.  As he pointed out, we are in need of a connected global dialog on food waste (a longtime theme of this blog), and Carrier’s Singapore Summit, building on last year’s London Summit, is advancing that dialog.  The timing is critical as we seek to make a significant move from awareness to action on food waste across the globe.

Several speakers provided excellent commentary over the two-day Summit to educate and energize the global audience.  Joseph Mpagalile of FAO discussed strategy for food loss reduction through cold chain development in developing countries.  Mpagalile began with an overview of FAO’s vision — a world free of hunger and malnutrition where food and agriculture contribute to improving living standards for all, especially the poorest, in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable manner.  It’s certainly a compelling vision – and one that is clearly aided by the optimization of resources associated with a significant reduction in global food waste.  In addition, he pointed to FAO’s 5 strategic objectives:

  1. Help eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition
  2. Make agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable
  3. Reduce rural poverty
  4. Enable inclusive and efficient agricultural & food systems
  5. Increase the resilience of livelihood to disasters

Again, reducing food waste aligns with all of them.

Mpagalile noted that of the 1.1 billion tons of annual food wastage around the globe, approximately half occurs in developing countries — and since that is where the bulk of population increase will take place between now and 2050 (and beyond), the value of improving the cold chain to reduce food waste in this region cannot be overstated.

He pointed to large food losses across the supply chain in the North Africa and Near East (NENA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) regions — including losses of 40-50% for perishable products.  His conclusion: the cold chain in developing regions must be further developed in a sustainable manner, and “a real commitment to supporting cold chain development is needed, both from governments and the private sector.”  Indeed, this is a prime area for public private partnerships — and such partnerships are a key aspect that the global dialog being fostered by Carrier can produce.

Mpagalile noted several conditions justifying cold chain development, including the strong commitment by multiple governments to reduce food wastage, the increasing production of perishable products, increasing economic and demographic growth, and increasing urbanization coupled with a growing middle class.  He suggested several potential interventions, including strengthening human and technical capacities, supporting research and development in the refrigeration sector, establishing a framework to support investment in the cold chain, promoting public private partnerships to increase cold chain investment, and supporting the development of efficient, environmentally-friendly equipment.

Ultimately, he called for a formal coalition for the development of the cold chain in developing countries — a coalition of public and private entities driving planning and implementation efforts over a six-year period to raise awareness of cold chain issues, support national policies, strategies, and program development, support cold chain capacity development, strengthen regulatory frameworks, and support investment projects in order to increase food security, reduce environmental impact, and increase business opportunities.  In other words, achieve far-reaching triple bottom line impact.

Clementine O’Connor of UNEP followed with a focus on Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which calls for a 50% reduction in per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduction of food losses along production and supply chains (including post-harvest losses).  O’Connor also pointed out the environmental and economic impacts of food waste, and discussed the Save Food and Think Eat Save initiatives (the latter focusing on downstream food waste).  She reviewed UNEP’s guidance methodology for food waste prevention, with modules focused on 1) mapping and measuring food and drink waste, 2) developing national and/or regional policies and measures, 3) developing and implementing programs to prevent and reduce household food waste, and 4) preventing food waste in business supply chains.

She then covered the importance of measuring food waste, including establishing a baseline, informing strategies and interventions, setting internal targets, and motivating personnel.  Importantly, she noted that to date the UK is the only country to have reduced food waste at the consumer level.  Clearly there is vast opportunity here — and given the “what you measure, you manage” adage — such work starts with a good baseline measure.

O’Connor also challenged companies to take steps to reduce food waste, including establishing their own baseline measures, pushing their suppliers to adopt similar baselines, advocating for food waste reduction, and tracking/reporting on progress.  She’s on point.  When companies start requiring their suppliers to demonstrate food waste reduction efforts as a condition of doing business, progress throughout the food supply chain will rapidly accelerate.

Didier Coulomb of the International Institute of Refrigeration followed, reminding the audience that “refrigeration is everywhere” but pointing especially to the increasing need for refrigeration in developing economies.  To support that theme, he noted that 23% of food losses in developing countries are caused by a lack of refrigeration as compared to 9% in developed countries.  Coulomb also noted that increasing refrigeration needs in developing countries means increased environmental impact, and called for technological development to address that challenge.

Judith Evans of London South Bank University gave a European perspective on food waste, including a breakdown of food waste by type, while also pointing to the significant damages to natural resources (climate, water, land, and biodiversity) associated with food waste — poignantly noting that “it just seems criminal that we’re throwing away so much food.”  Evans listed many key issues linked to the problem of global food waste, including population growth, economic growth, urbanization, rising expectations of global citizenry, climate change, depletion of natural resources, slowing agricultural productivity, and undernourishment.  She also pointed to the challenge of economic growth and development — increased food exports require increased refrigeration dependence, coupled with longer cold chains and increased resource consumption.

Regarding urbanization, Evans noted that “every second we have one more person moving into an urban sector…we’re gradually losing our connection to the land and how food is grown, which contributes to the food waste problem.”

Evans pointed to the importance of refrigeration, noting that approximately 50% of current food wastage could be saved with a more efficient supply chain — leading to increased food security, improved health worldwide, billions of dollars in financial savings, and the potential to reduce global CO2 emissions by up to a billion tons per year.  She listed a combination of technical, behavioral, and legislative changes to achieve this level of reduction, including 1) a focus in developing countries on reducing post-harvest losses early in the food supply chain (through better mold/pest control, better refrigeration storage technologies, and better infrastructure, and 2) a focus in developed countries on strategies to prevent waste through the food supply chain (including “whole chain” cooperation), technical improvements (such as packaging improvements to extend shelf life), socio-economic changes (reduced package and portion sizes and improved date labeling), behavior change, and supportive legislation.  The behavior change piece is critical as consumers in developed countries must transition from a “culture of abundance” mindset regarding food to a “culture of responsibility” mindset — prodding retailers to move with them.

Olivier Jan of Deloitte covered the potential of the cold chain to reduce global GHG emissions through food waste reduction.  Addressing a key food system challenge, he asked: Is there an environmental benefit in developing cold chains in emerging economies?  In other words, will the reduction in GHG emissions from reduced food wastage exceed the additional emissions from increased energy use and increased transport distances?  Importantly, Deloitte’s study showed that the decrease in the food loss and waste carbon footprint from an expanded cold chain outbalances additional emissions by a factor of ten (Note: the study was limited to perishable fresh food and developing regions of the world).

Flowing nicely from Jan’s discussion, Pascal Chapot of Nestlé gave a “boots on the ground” overview of Nestlé’s fresh milk collection operations in Pakistan.  In reviewing the complexity of this effort, which involves 170,000 farmers and 110,000 square kilometers, Chapot stressed the importance of the cold chain to minimize post-harvest losses as well as the importance of extensive training among the thousands of farmers in the chain.  He noted that their efforts have resulted in a 1% loss over Nestlé’s value chain, and there remains considerable potential to further reduce those losses by shortening the cold chain, improving equipment design, and continuing training efforts. Notably, Nestlé is also developing renewable energy sources to power chilling centers in the region.

Chapot also covered Nestlé’s shared value concept — the idea that “for a company to be successful over time and create value for shareholders, it must also create value for society.” Linking food waste reduction and agricultural development of less developed regions to its business model clearly fits that bill.

Eduardo Kerbel of Carrier helped close out day one of the Summit with a grower’s perspective on reducing post-harvest losses of fresh produce, beginning with the following key statement:

When it comes to offer(ing) the world good, nutritious, and safe produce, it is a lot cheaper and efficient to spend our resources on keeping and maintaining the condition, quality and wholesomeness of produce that was already produced and harvested, rather than to try (and) compensate for post-harvest losses by producing more and more produce.

Well said.  As EPA’s Food Waste Reduction hierarchy suggests, we should prioritize source reduction in order to optimize scarce resources.  Kerbel went on to review best handling practices in the field and in packing plants, along with optimal packaging requirements and cold chain compliance techniques to reduce food waste.

Day two of the conference began with a session on refrigeration technologies to reduce food losses.  Gerald Cavalier of Cemafroid noted the many challenges to be faced regarding refrigeration, including the challenge of equipment (there are 1.5 billion domestic refrigerators in use), performance challenges (continuity, safety, security, and traceability adapted to myriad environments), sustainability challenges (energy efficiency and emissions impact), the temperature “full service” challenge (economic and technical hurdles) and the qualification-certification challenge (technical standards and protocols). He discussed recent innovations in refrigeration, and closed by advocating a vision for refrigeration involving continuity (the right temperature everywhere at the right time), connectivity (with big data), service, capability (training), environmental performance, and a guarantee of conformity, safety, quality, and performance.

Andy Perkins of Star Refrigeration discussed refrigeration technologies and how we can improve the cold chain.  Mark Mitchell of Supercool Asia followed with a detailed presentation on how to improve the transport cold chain, noting that while we currently have the technology to do so, it is poorly implemented.   Mitchell noted that global food loss reduction can be achieved by dramatically improving the transport cold chain.  Importantly, he stated that part of the solution involves having stakeholders “value food as a precious commodity and not (as) products readily replaced under insurance claims or available in abundance.”  Well said.  Again, the importance of mindset shift away from a culture of abundance regarding food in the developed world cannot be overstated.  Mitchell called for global collaboration, noting that a failure to apply existing cold chain knowledge and technology to the developing world is unacceptable.

Building on the impactful presentations over two days, the conference concluded with hands-on workshops investigating 1) the key steps to building a cold  chain to reduce food loss, 2) how to expand expiration dates to reduce food waste, and 3) the components of a sustainable cold chain.

Reviewing many key Summit takeaways in closing, John Mandyck posited that it is time to move into an era of food efficiency, suggesting that we focus on wasting less to feed more rather than looking toward ever more food production (with its associated environmental impact).  He also pointed to the great potential for a new cold chain coalition organized by FAO, as well as the importance of getting behind Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

In The IKEA Edge, former CEO Anders Dahlvig argued that business is uniquely positioned to finding solutions to the planet’s major challenges, and that companies have a responsibility to (and should) take a broader role in solving those challenges.  Indeed, it will help ensure their long-term success.  Carrier’s desire to take a lead role in advancing the global dialog on food waste reduction syncs perfectly with its refrigeration business, and, like Nestlé’s shared value theme, it enables the company to create value not only for shareholders but for society as well at this critical juncture in time.  Such responsible leadership is clearly needed to help meet the challenge of feeding nine billion by 2050.   Other organizations would do well to follow.

Steven Finn is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Organizational Dynamics.

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