B Lab & Finding Humanity Podcast — Episode 2: Winning the War on Food Waste

How to change a system that drives food insecurity, climate change, and economic loss.
By B Lab Global
January 25, 2022

Each year, about a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Food loss and waste contributes to some of the most pressing health, environmental, and economic challenges of our day, accounting for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions and $1 trillion in economic losses annually. How can businesses innovate and help win the fight against food waste? In this episode, we explore how global brands like Danone are contributing to aggressive targets aimed at reducing food waste. We also discuss how social impact companies, like Too Good to Go, are pushing for policy and behavioral change by building a movement of food waste warriors.

Featured guests include: 

  • Surbhi Martin — Vice President of Marketing, Danone North America

  • Philippe Schuler — Global Impact Manager, Too Good To Go

  • Maximo Torero — Chief Economist, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO)

  • Juan Pablo Larenas — Co-founder of Sistema B and former Executive Director, B Lab Global

Listen at findinghumanitypodcast.com, or wherever you stream your podcasts.

TRANSCRIPT: Episode Two — Winning the War on Food Waste

Philippe Schuler, Global Impact Manager of Too Good to Go: If if we really want to tackle climate crisis and also the entire environmental crisis, we need to look at the food system and the food system needs to be completely reevaluated and really needs to be challenged in many different ways and really needs to reexist in a different matter. 

Hazami Barmada, host, Finding Humanity podcast: Every year, about a third of the world’s food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Let’s think about that for a second. That’s 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year. That equals an estimated 1 trillion dollars in economic losses annually, and is enough food to feed 3 billion people. 

Maximo Terrero, Chief Economist, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: Today we have 811 million people chronically undernourished. So it's one 161 million more people than 2019. And you have, at the same time, a situation where you are losing 14 percent and wasting 17 percent of the food. So that doesn't make any sense.

Hazami: But food waste goes beyond the issue of hunger, it’s environmental impact is bigger than most of us think.

Surbhi Martin, Vice President of Marketing, Danone North America: And this food waste that's going unused makes up about eight percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it a top contributor to climate change. 

Hazami: Can businesses help solve the greatest societal challenges we face? You’re listening to a Finding Humanity special series with B Lab, the nonprofit behind the B Corp movement. B Lab is transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet. In this series, we will explore how businesses can step up to shape a future that benefits us all.

I’m your host Hazami Barmada.

The global population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. At that population size, the equivalent of almost three planets would be required to provide natural resources to sustain our current lifestyle.

In September 2015, world leaders agreed on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which aims to reduce by half the per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and to reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

So how did we get here? And what are we getting wrong?

Maximo: I think the first misconception is the problem of the definition… that people mix the concept and they think of losses when they're talking of waste or they talk of waste when they're talking of loss. 

That’s Maximo Torero, Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN agency that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and achieve food security for all.

Maximo: So food loss is everything that goes from post-harvest up to wholesale production, included. If we go back to the broad definition of food loss, you can go from whatever the producer does up to wholesaling, included. Food waste will be from the retail to the consumer. 

Food waste is a big issue in industrialized countries. It is mainly due to retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible food into the bin. A UN study found that consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food — that’s 222 million tonnes — as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. On average, a person in North America or Europe throws away around 100kgs, or over 200lbs, of food a year. Compared to a waste of between 6-11kg or 13-24lbs per person in Africa and Asia.  

According to Maximo, 61 percent of food waste comes from households, 26 percent from food service, and 30 percent from retail.

Philippe: We, as consumers, have become increasingly picky of what food has to look like. We no longer eat food after a certain date because it just says so on a certain produce. 

That’s Philippe: Too Good to Go is a social impact company that has its mission of inspiring and empowering everyone to fight food waste together, and together basically means to encourage building a movement against food waste.

Hazami: Now a Certified B Corporation, Too Good to Go was created by five founders in Copenhagen in 2015. The idea came about when the founders were at a restaurant where there was a buffet.

Philippe: And just before closing time, they noticed that the vast majority of the food that was left behind on the buffet was being thrown directly into the bin. And so they were wondering, Wow, you know, how is this possible? You know, there's so many people that are hungry around the world currently, that don't have enough to eat. It's perfectly delicious food. So how is that not going to people anymore? And so what they thought about was, how can we connect this food surplus at the end of the day and ensure that it doesn't go into the bin but give it to somebody else at a reduced price? 

Hazami: Too Good to Go is a digital marketplace that encourages people to save surplus food from businesses at the end of the day.

Philippe: So it's an online digital tool via a free app that people can download in 17 countries around the world. And they can save food at the end of the day from businesses such as restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, canteens, you name it. And the beauty around that solution is that it's really a win-win-win solution. So the consumer is winning from it because he or she will get a meal at a reduced price at the end of the day. The business doesn't have to waste this beautiful, delicious edible food. And the winner, of course, on the other side of it is, of course, also for the environment. 

Hazami: And where does this wasted food go and what impacts does that have on the planet? 

Philippe: So the big problem of all of this is that a lot of this food ends up going on landfills.

Philippe: One of the primary consequences of landfills is methane, and methane is a greenhouse gas that is often considered 30 times more potent or 30 times more dangerous than CO2 emissions. And that is actually one of the prime causes towards climate change. And so if we would eliminate the amount of food going to landfills and eliminate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions coming from methane, we would be able to reduce the amount of climate change and really try to avoid it as much as possible in the future. So that is one big aspect. Another big aspect of landfills is the amount of food that does not decompose properly — that basically creates methane — but also that ends up going into the water systems that then are basically making their way into the oceans and also polluting our oceans at a massive, unprecedented scale. 

Hazami: The impact of food waste is vast — and it cuts across a multitude of global issues. 

Juan Pablo: We still have some countries with huge income inequality in which you see rich people over consuming and people that is less privileged without access to any food. 

Hazami: That’s Juan Pablo Larenas. Juan Pablo is the Executive Director of B Lab Global and is the Co-Founder of Sistema B. 

Juan Pablo: We need businesses to take action and to build, to change the paradigm of their success in order to offer, on one hand, healthy food that is accessible, and on the other hand, that they are also accountable of not overproducing

Hazami: Within and outside the food industry, businesses have the opportunity to tackle food loss and waste, as well as issues where they intersect, including health.

Surbhi: In 2019, we launched Two Good. 

Hazami: That’s Surbhi Martin, Vice President of Marketing at Danone North America, also a B Corp.

Danone is a world leading food company founded in 1919. Two Good, as in the number two, is one of the company’s dairy brands.

Surbhi: And this mission, that Danone has been on since, of bringing health through food to as many people as possible has led us to innovate a range of products that help meet consumer needs, particularly needs related to greater health and wellness. 

Surbhi: We launched Two Good because we saw that consumers in the U.S. were increasingly concerned about the consumption of sugar in their diet.

Hazami: But apart from offering health benefits through their product line, the company wanted to combat food waste.

Surbhi: One of the reasons we focused on food waste is that as an activist brand, we looked at top contributors to global climate change. And it turns out that food waste is a top contributor to climate change globally. And we wanted to be able to tackle this issue because in the U.S., about a third of food is wasted, much of it at the farm level due to oversupply or minor cosmetic issues, when at the same time one in six Americans, up from one in seven pre the pandemic is facing food insecurity. These are two related problems where one problem could be the solution to another. And so we decided to step up as a brand and become a vote with your dollar brand, where for every single cup of two good yogurt you buy, you help rescue and donate an equal amount of healthy food to somebody in need. 

Hazami: To execute their One Cup, Less Hunger program, Two Good partnered with City Harvest of New York and We Don't Waste which is based in Denver, Colorado. By donating to these organizations, Two Good aims to provide the equivalent of 28 million meals annually to those in need, or 46 million pounds of food.

Surbhi: Danone has set some aggressive targets around food waste. Our goal is to cut food loss and food waste in half by 2030, in line with U.N. Sustainability Development Goal 12.3. And we really view our brands as the how to this food revolution that we are trying to help lead in the U.S. to meet this target. And we aim to reduce food waste throughout our supply chain and in partnership with brand level activations such as the One Cup, Less Hunger program on Two Good.

Surbhi: We partner with City Harvest in New York City because they have the capability that we don't have within Danone North America to rescue food by working with restaurant operators, for example, and other food suppliers to find healthy food that would otherwise be wasted. And then to have mobile markets, for example, around the greater New York community to then distribute that food. 

Hazami: Another key initiative from Two Good aimed at fighting food waste is called Good Save. 

Surbhi: So we work with an organization called Full Harvest to obtain verified, rescued Meyer lemons or pumpkins, which are the two flavors we have so far on the market this year to ensure that we can work with farmers at the farm level to verify that we are rescuing the fruit in that supply chain, to source the fruit that we then put in our two good, good save yogurt. And to date, we've saved about 88 thousand pounds of Meyer lemons and pumpkins through the good save platform, and we have plans to aggressively grow that.

Hazami: The success of food rescue programs relies on multi-sector partnerships. I asked Philippe about the types of partnerships they had to pursue, to enable Too Good to Go to realize its mission.

Philippe: What we're really trying to do is to build a movement against food waste, and that means to engage with all segments of society. 

Philippe: That means trying to engage with businesses, with all partners, educating and really investing a lot of time also in trying to convince consumers in fighting food waste, but also in terms of politicians on both on the local, regional and national level to make sure that they take food waste extremely seriously as well when they put forward their climate targets and when they put forward their agendas when it comes to even bigger subjects on sustainability and even on the entire food systems. 

Hazami: In spite of its detrimental impacts on the environment, Philippe says that food waste has not received the attention it deserves.

Philippe: A lot of people have neglected it in the past. A lot have focused on electric cars, on greener energy, which of course are extremely important. But many forget that 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on a global level are currently coming from food waste alone, which is far higher than airplane emissions, for example. And it's close to exactly the same thing as road transportation alone. So the impact that reducing food waste could have on climate change is simply staggering, and not a lot of people know about it. And so we see it as our obligation and it our duty to really put that forward into the public eye and to really make people aware that they can actually do something about it.

Hazami: Well, your partnerships with policymakers and governments are also critical, too, to your mission to be able to do this. Can you speak a little bit more to restrictions and regulations around food upcycling, reusing, any kind of legal frameworks that may have stood in your way and continue to maybe stand in your way?

Philippe: So there's a lot of legislation that I would say is very outdated and which a lot of businesses might still rely on, but that truly don't even exist anymore. One example with that is these kind of quality standards or product specifications that are set on fruits and vegetables. In the European Union, there's a whole list of fruits and vegetables that need to have a certain size, shape and color. And based on that, this is what businesses basically select their produce for, and they create them in a certain way. And that means that a lot of the produce which is perfectly edible doesn't even make it to the supermarkets or to its consumers just because they're not perfect enough. And I think this is where a lot of work has to be done in terms of changing that legislation and also working together with businesses and politicians to make sure that these kind of legislations and schemes in place are reevaluated and adopted in a new way.

Hazami: One of Too Good to Go’s campaigns focuses on helping consumers understand food labels and expiration dates.

Philippe: 10 percent of all the food that is wasted in the European Union alone is down to date labeling and misunderstanding between a difference of a used by and at best before date. And of course, the legislation also led to a lot of these issues in the first place as well. So what we are trying to do with that campaign and with this project is to really encourage businesses, of course, to educate consumers, but also to use our voice as a social impact company and together with our partners to help also move the policy needle and to move it in the right direction to make the changes in the data labeling legislation as well.

Hazami: Well, for those that may not be aware, what is the difference between the use by date and the expired by date? 

Philippe: So a use by date is completely down to food safety. So imagine a produce such as meat or fish often dates back to the salmonella outbreak. So it was put in place so that people make sure that they don't eat that produce after a certain date because they might get sick. So that's, you know, a use by date, and I think this is really something that people should follow. But the vast majority of produce nowadays have a best before date and the best before date has absolutely nothing to do with food safety. It's just an indication of how long a food can still be consumed at the same quality as it was initially. But the same quality that's extremely subjective, and sometimes just by looking at it, smelling it or tasting it, you will be able to find out if it is still edible or not. So the last thing that we that I would really want people to do is to just look at produce, think of the date and just throw it away just because it has a date on. It, you know, it doesn't just magically deteriorate after midnight the next day and then just completely changes its shape or form. It's really important to really open the package, look at it, smell it, taste it before throwing it away.

Hazami: While there is an urgent need for policies and legislation to reduce the quantities of food thrown away by supermarkets, Maximo from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says there is also a huge gap when it comes to education and behavioral change.

Maximo: The major problem is on the consumer side, and that's where a huge behavioral change has to be put in place or incentives. So like taxes, if you left food or you throw food. So again, we need to figure out the mechanisms to minimize those. But again, it is really important to resolve this problem because it's a triple win, you improve efficiency of production, you improve the use efficiency and the use of natural resources and you reduce emissions

Hazami: When it comes to issues that push for policy and behavioral change, companies like Too Good to Go face barriers to pursuing and scaling their mission.

Philippe: To be very honest with you, the biggest pushback and the biggest challenge that I'm facing still nowadays is that business are still seen as the evil of all of it. You know that businesses are the cause of everything that has happened and that they only have profits in their own eyes. And that's the only reason why they exist. And Too Good To Go is a perfect example to show that there are businesses out there that want to do business for good that have the idea that purpose should be even above profit. 

Philippe: So we really tried to also educate and really show to policymakers that there are businesses out there that have solutions and that really want to help in changing the status quo at the moment and that want to basically change the world and through business, I definitely think that that's the way to do it. We are in a pretty capitalist world. I think we all have to face that. Businesses do make a difference. economies make a difference. So it's about including businesses in the conversations as well. And I think more can be done on that when it comes to setting policies, but also to collaborate with public entities. It's still a challenge for private institutions. So what I would really encourage is to really change that and to really enable these kind of collaborations even more between the private sector and the public sector. 

Hazami: As Philippe shares, there also needs to be a societal shift in perspective around why businesses exist. But in order to achieve this, businesses need to adapt their business models so that they can offer products and services that are good for citizens, and not just their shareholders.

Juan Pablo: This is why we created a couple of years ago, the SDG Action Manager in partnership with the U.N. Global Compact, which is a tool that is free for businesses to use and can help them analyze their food waste and act on solutions. The SDG action manager is the most important tool in the world for businesses to measure the impact related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – being one of them, food. So we invite all businesses to use this platform in order to understand what are the negative impacts and how they can improve. We want all businesses to reduce their supply chain waste. We want all businesses to start recycling more, to increase composting. We want them to improve zero waste practices. Or to embed recycling programs not only internally but also in their supply chains and clients. [00:16:29][73.9]

Hazami: Taking action also means being part of a global movement of businesses that serve people and the planet. 

Surbhi: As part of the B Corp community, Danone North America is also joining a community of like minded companies who are working together to strengthen the role of business in combating food waste. So we have jumped at the opportunity to be part of what's called the 10 by 20 by 30 initiative that brings together the world's biggest food retailers, along with key suppliers to address food waste in our supply chain. And the goal of the 10 by 20 by 30 initiative is that 10 of the world's largest retailers and food service operators are engaging with 20 key suppliers to cut food loss and food waste by 50 percent by 2030. So the activations on a brand like Two Good to reduce food waste are a meaningful contribution to achieving both the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the 10 by 20 by 30 initiative.

Hazami: And one of the key things that leaders need to better understand is that businesses benefit from putting purpose at the core of their strategy.

Surbhi: We're seeing a great response from our consumer base. Since launching the program. In the first three months that we launched the program last year, we saw our brand consideration double, which goes to show that when you tell consumers what you're doing and how you are transparently and measurably making an impact specifically in this case, by rescuing and donating an equal amount of food that would otherwise go to waste and providing it to someone in need, people respond. 

Hazami: Having launched just three years ago, Two Good projects to be a 200 million dollar brand.

Surbhi: I would pose that a lot of that performance is driven by an authentic, transparent focus on purpose and measurable impact. [00:15:00][9.8]

Surbhi: We would love to be a catalyst to start a much broader movement that extends well beyond this brand. Because actually that’s the only way that we’ll get scaled systemic change is to see other companies, other brands take inspiration and even replicate some of those initiatives to be able to more broadly have a measurable impact on food waste. 

Hazami: Meanwhile, Too Good to Go has helped save 100 million meals towards the end of 2021.

Philippe: We have an employee base of over 1300 people based around 17 different countries across Europe and North America, and we're working with more than 120,000 partners, so different stores across different locations and have over 40 million people using our app. So registered users, more than 40 million. And so we can definitely see those numbers going up daily. It's absolutely crazy. We are saving two meals a second at the moment. So these are the kind of numbers that you just have to remind yourself how quickly we are growing as business and how much more that can actually be done. 

Hazami: When it comes to addressing global issues like food waste, everyone has a part to play.

Surbhi: Every time you make a choice about what to eat or drink, you can vote for the world that you want to live in. So use that power. Vote with your dollar. Be part of the solution. Intentionally choose the brands that align with your values and with a sense of demonstrated measurable impact. That's the real way — through individual choices — that we can unlock systemic long term change in tackling food waste and food insecurity. 

Hazami: What does the future look like with limited food waste?

Philippe: You could say that we have a long way to go, but I'm definitely I have the vision of dreaming of a planet with no food waste on top of my head every morning when I wake up. It's definitely what keeps me going, and I truly believe that we can get there. I honestly think that all edible food should never go to waste. There will always be a certain amount of waste, but we can always make energy out of it. You can always compost it. You know, we can always create a circular kind of food system that makes sure that none of it goes to landfill so that those environmental consequences just simply do not happen and we don't need to produce more food. I think this is something that a lot of people still have a belief that we're going to be more people by 2050. We need to cut down the forest, et cetera. For me, that is just nonsense because we are producing more than enough food for people today and for tomorrow. If we would reduce food waste by just one quarter, so just 25 percent, we would be able to feed everyone today. So the ones that are already eating right now, but also the 870 million who don't have enough to eat, and we would also be able to feed all the people coming up to 2050. All 10 billion people just by saving 25 percent of the food we're currently wasting. So food production in itself, we are already producing enough. We don't need to produce more. And food waste is the biggest challenge that we're facing right now and that needs to be tackled.

Hazami: While governments and businesses are primarily responsible for solving the issue of food waste, consumers also have a role to play in tackling this problem.

Philippe: So we're all part of the solution. I think what is extremely important is to look each other in the mirror and to say, you know, what am I currently doing to reduce food waste and how am I contributing to the problem? 

Philippe: My biggest advice that I can just give to people is clean your plate. You know, whenever you are and going out for dinner, when you're cooking, you know, make sure that nothing is left on your plate Pick up a doggie bag if you're in a restaurant, it's not embarrassing to do that. You know where it's perfectly fine to ask for doggie bag to take it back home. And if you're at home and you make too big of a portion, just freeze it up. You know, put it into your freezer and use it the next day. So it's just about putting these right habits in place and to really make sure that we all move in the right direction and we kind of change our own behaviors when it comes to that as well. 

Hazami: Philippe encourages everyone to become a food waste warrior.

Philippe: Anyone that is really fighting food waste in their everyday lives, whether it's a business, a household, a consumer or even a government politician who takes food waste seriously, we all consider as waste warriors because they are taking the war against food waste, 

If you'd like to hear more empowering stories from Finding Humanity or to learn more about this episode, visit our website at www.findinghumanitypodcast.com. Please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Your ratings and reviews help Finding Humanity reach new audiences, so we thank you for your support.

For more opportunities to engage with us, follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter! 

In our podcast, we cover pressing -- and at times controversial -- social and political issues. The views and opinions expressed are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the positions or opinions of the producers or any affiliated organizations.

Finding Humanity is a joint production of the Humanity Lab Foundation and Hueman Group Media, this series is produced in collaboration with B Lab. For this episode, we’d like to thank Hannah Munger and Rachel Sarnoff. To learn more about B Lab and the B Corp movement, visit bcorporation.net.

Our Co-Executive Producers are Camille and Hazami Barmada, Associate Producers are Fernanda Uriegas and Tanny Jiraprapasuke, Policy and Background Research by Karolina Mendecka and Tanny Jiraprapasuke. Mixing, editing, and music by Maverick Aquino.

For this episode, I’d like to thank Philippe Schuler, Surbhi Martin, Maximo Torero and Juan Pablo Larenas.

I’m your host, Hazami Barmada. Thanks for listening. And I look forward to seeing you in the next episode

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