food waste

Food is taking centre stage at this year’s UN climate summit for the first time. COP27 is hosting the annual event’s first Food Systems Pavilion, signifying that how we eat is finally being recognised as essential to climate change mitigation.

This progress is hugely welcome, if somewhat belated. Food and agriculture account for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is we cannot reach net zero without transforming the way we produce, distribute and consume food.

Food waste is a key part of the problem. If it were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter, after China and the US. Seizing the momentum of COP27, now is the moment for food producers, retailers, suppliers and brands to Unite and accelerate action on reducing that waste.

Wasting food is bad for both people and the planet. Not only a major driver of the climate crisis, it is morally indefensible. More than two billion people on our planet lack access to regular and safe food. At the same time, global food waste is on track to become an annual billion-tonne problem.

Ending food waste also makes sound business sense. Research shows that for every $1 companies invest to reduce food loss and waste, they save $14 in operating costs. However, due to a lack of public reporting on food waste across the consumer goods sector, far too few companies are prioritising it and reaping the financial rewards. This lack of action cannot continue, especially considering ending food waste is essential to helping businesses cut emissions – particularly in terms of Scope 3 emissions not related to their direct activities.

Improvements are needed at every stage of food production. As well as addressing wastage linked to manufacture and retail operations, we must work out how to cut it on farms too. As things stand, 14% of global food production is lost between harvest and retail, which represents 50% of all global food loss and waste. Plus, consumer food waste cannot keep increasing. Too many people in the industrialised world think nothing of throwing produce in the bin. This should not be the norm and we must work together to change this.

With the latest UN report showing we are not on track to hit the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, time is running out to keep our planet habitable. It’s vital the private sector steps up to the plate on the crucial issue of food waste.

The World Benchmarking Alliance and Consumer Goods Forum are both global organisations united by our belief that when it comes to combating food waste, it’s now or never if we are to protect people and planet.

The World Benchmarking Alliance’s (WBA’s) Food and Agriculture Benchmark previously assessed the world’s 350 most influential food companies, which account for more than half of the world’s food and agriculture revenue. It found 40% are yet to provide any evidence of working on food loss and waste. Of those that do, 119 companies only provide qualitative evidence. Of the 81 that disclose quantitative data – reporting on the sheer volume of food they waste – only six are proactively working with partners on their reduction targets and making any progress.

Reporting on food waste is an imperative. And the tool with which to do it properly already exists. With the Food Loss and Waste Protocol, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) – in collaboration with Wrap and the World Resources Institute – has created a harmonised food waste reporting approach that promotes greater transparency and helps companies benchmark their efforts against their peers. We urge all food companies to use it.

When it comes to food waste, it’s time for farmers, food producers and retailers to embrace a new mindset. To drive the scale and pace of change required, organisations must collaborate, share learnings and adopt best practice.

That’s why CGF’s Food Waste Coalition exists. It brings together 20 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers – including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Unilever – to cut global food loss at retailer and consumer levels. It’s all about joining forces to drive change, underpinned by tangible commitments.

As COP27 continues, it is clearer than ever we must radically overhaul our food systems to cut emissions if we are to stand a chance of avoiding climate catastrophe. It is essential that food producers, retailers, suppliers and brands seize this momentum and unite to accelerate action of food waste prevention. Together we have it in our power to stop people going hungry, save the ecosystems on which we all depend, and strengthen our business models.