You’d be forgiven for glazing over at talk of the seemingly ambiguous Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard announced yesterday in Copenhagen. And, yes, at first glance it doesn’t look good. Another vague-sounding sustainability initiative agreed at yet another dry international conference attended by politicians and diplomats in grey suits talking about change but appearing to achieve very little. But bear with me through the bureaucracy. This announcement is worth paying attention to, not least because the stakes are so high.
About one third of all food is lost or wasted around the world, according to the UN. That loss costs industries and governments $940bn per year. It generates 8% of global greenhouse emissions (staggeringly, if it were a country food waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US). And it’s a stinging slap in the face to the more than 800 million people worldwide that don’t have enough food.
But, despite the scale of the problem, until now there has been no global mechanism for measuring and tracking food waste. Why does that matter? Quite simply, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. No business can minimise what it doesn’t have a record of. And no governments can dream up effective policy changes without figures they can track success against.
That makes the arrival of the new FLW Standard big news. Drawn up by the likes of the Consumer Goods Forum, Wrap and the FAO at the UN, with input from major fmcg players such as Nestlé, the standard sets out universal definitions for food waste (which currently vary hugely between countries) and provides a clear framework for quantifying and tracking waste.
For the first time, it will allow both developed and emerging economies to sit round a table and compare progress on a like-for-like basis, both in the public and commercial sectors.
Some details remain hazy. For example, how exactly will the FLW Standard become universally adopted? The CGF has already committed its 400 global members, retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries to track progress using the framework. UK leaders in this field, such as Tesco and Nestlé, have voiced support too. And The Grocer’s own Waste Not Want Not campaign will continue to push for greater transparency, engagement and co-operation from the UK industry with consistent, credible reporting a key part of that.
But, to be truly effective, the protocol will need universal backing. And that starts with people giving it a chance and finding out more. OK, it might not be riveting on the face of it. There isn’t even the whiff of a scandal. But trust me, it’s worth a read. This matters.