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2016 Global Sustainability Summit: Food Waste & the CSO’s Agenda

Hannah Geise

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Earlier this month, two of our co-founders, Ricky Ashenfelter and Emily Malina, attended the Global Sustainability Summit in New Orleans, hosted by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Global Sustainability Summit

The annual Summit brings together sustainability professionals from the food manufacturing, distribution, and retail industries to discuss the burning questions on companies’ agendas (you can track the conference’s conversation on Twitter using #FMIGMASummit).

It’s hard for us to summarize three days of content, discussion, and energy into a single blog post. Food waste was unquestionably on the Chief Sustainability Officer’s agenda, though it’s important to recognize there are broader topics and complementary initiatives beyond food waste, such as supply chain transparency, ethical sourcing, and energy usage.

Regardless, here goes our attempt to capture the key takeaways related to food recovery and waste diversion: Awareness, Measurement, Innovation.

Consumer Awareness Is Growing

The industry is really stepping up its efforts to draw attention to the topics of food waste. Dana Gunders, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, used one of the Summit’s sessions to highlight the “Save The Food” campaign.

Present at the Summit were also researchers from Nielsen, whose latest report confirms that “Consumers are doing their homework on companies before they choose to do business with them.” According to their report released in October 2015 (The Sustainability Imperative: New Insights on Consumer Expectations), 66% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands—up from 55% in 2014 and 50% in 2013.

Read more: Nielsen: Sustainability and company growth 'are not mutually exclusive'

This mirrors findings from a 2014 Harris Poll study from Sealed Air and was further confirmed at the Summit by Eric Pierce of the New Hope Network. Pierce’s presentation on “food tribes” suggests that food companies can learn about the future trends in consumer purchasing by looking at the actions and preferences of certain early adopters before they go mainstream. One of those values is reducing food waste.

Measurement Leads to Management

Our second takeaway is to highlight the industry’s continued commitment to measurement and goal setting. The Food Waste Reduction Alliance announced that it will be debuting a new report later this fall that highlights waste generation in its representative sectors, along with diversion efforts underway. A copy of their previous report, last updated in Fall 2015, is available here.

One of our favorite panels was titled “Restaurant Perspectives on Sustainability From Farm to Fork” and included speakers from McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, and Aramark (with moderation from the National Restaurant Association) talking about their efforts in foodservice - particularly donations, composting, and diversion.

It’s important to recognize that foodservice faces different challenges and opportunities than other industries in cutting down food waste - often segmented as “front of house” (customer / dining area) and “back of house” (kitchen initiatives). McDonald’s, for example, converts 90% of cooking oil from its kitchen fryers “back of house” into biodiesel, whereas Aramark highlighted the role that foodservice operators can play in educating its customers by accepting “front of house” compostable and biodegradable serve-ware and paper goods.

Entrepreneurs Drive Innovation

Last but not least, we were thrilled to be surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs developing the next wave of solutions to support food companies with their waste reduction efforts. Spoiler Alert participated in the Summit’s Food Waste Startup Challenge and Innovation Zone, a competition and showcase sponsored by Mondelez.

For us, the Challenge demonstrated the diversity of initiatives that are needed to tackle the problem, from food donation to composting and energy production (i.e. the full spectrum of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy). Shoutouts to winner Full Cycle Bioplastics and California Safe Soil for their work in resource recovery, and Foodfully for its work in consumer awareness at home.

All in all, the Summit was a fantastic experience for our team, and Spoiler Alert looks forward to joining Meghan Stasz and the entire FMI and GMA teams at the 2017 Summit in Nashville!


Conference session descriptions can be found here.

PDFs of speaker presentations are located here.

Post-Conference Reads

7 Inspiring Sustainability Reports