FOOD WASTE: WHAT IS YOUR INTENT?
In September of 2015 the United Nations (UN) adopted, as a part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an array of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Third among them was a 50% per capita reduction in global food loss and food waste at the retail and consumer levels. The so-called Target 12.3 also proposed a three-step approach for reducing food loss and waste: target, measure and act. In the instant article we advocate adding a fourth and, moreover, prerequisite step, specifically intent. In other words, even before targeting, measuring, and acting, you must first have the intent to reduce food waste in your organization. And lest I be accused of being patently platitudinous, let me say that the word intent, as used here, is not to be confused with the variety that paves the proverbial road to hell, nor is it meant to conjure up memories of plans, superbly laid only to be torpedoed by procrastination. No, the intent, to which the author refers, is deep, pervasive and strategic.
We do not do so with the expectation that our edible artworks, or any significant portion thereof, will end up in a landfill.
As a certified live-food chef, I can appreciate the passion for food often expressed in the profiles of chefs, as well as other food service professionals. That is, perhaps, as it should be. After all, planting, cultivating, harvesting and preparing food are, collectively, perhaps the most intimate way we interact with the planet.
All of us underwent years or training and practiced years more to hone our skills. We prepare for hours upon hours. We pay meticulous attention to detail. We do so, at least in part, to honor the earth's openhandedness, but also with the hope that the culinary masterpieces we create, serve and, oftentimes, share here on Linked In and other social media platforms, will help to make the lives of our guest, and virtual consumers alike, more fulfilling. We do not do so with the expectation that our edible artworks, or any significant portion thereof, will end up in a landfill.
The reality, however, is that over 83% or approximately 14 million tons of restaurant food waste is landfilled, where it degrades into 40 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. But let us say you do not buy the climate-change argument. What could the industry buy with just half of the $1.3 billion dollars it spends for food waste disposal annually? The fact is food waste reduction is one of the best ways to improve ROI. It is not easy. To be successful, in the first instance, you must be imbued with intent, infected by it. You must be, as the ol' folk used to say, "ate up wit' it!"
"... if you know (as in embody) your intent, as a leader in the battle to eighty-six food waste in your organization, it is critical that you communicate clearly, particularly to your back-of-the-house staff."
In the ongoing debate about the NBA's greatest of all time (GOAT) player, the conversation usually focuses on Michael Jordan and LeBron James, with an occasional, honorable mention afforded to Kobe Bryant. Conspicuous by his absence from the discussion is Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
Clear and contagious
What made Magic unique was not just his height, court vision and dime-dishing dexterity, but also the affect he had on his teammates. His smile, his enthusiasm, his intent to make his teammates better, and to win, was clear and contagious. In short, his intent was communicable. A wave of the hand, a wink of the eye, he knew his intent, so did his compatriots, even if opposing players rarely did. And even in those instances when they did, as was the case with Jordan, James and Bryant, there was little the opposition could do to thwart him. But unlike the three other contenders for the NBA’s GOAT, Johnson did not have to drag his Showtime co-stars, screaming and kicking to victory; they came along gleefully.
Know thy (intent)
Likewise, as Vineet Nayar, the former CEO of HCL Technologies, suggested in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article entitled The Power of Intent, if you know (as in embody) your intent, as a leader in the battle to eighty-six food waste in your organization, it is critical that you communicate clearly, particularly to your back-of-the-house staff. Do not misconstrue; your colleagues do not expect you to have all the answers, nor should you even suggest that you do. They know you have a lot on your plate. Indeed, nothing that you say and/or do is likely to cause them to catch the intent bug. Instead, if your intent is real and authentic, if you are your intent, if you are a carrier, then those around you, especially those in close proximity, are more inclined to allow themselves to be inspirited.
"...the ethical (restaurateur) is handicapped financially since he bears the cost of additional responsibilities he assumed and which his competitor have shunned."
The ethical entrepreneur
In their 2018 follow-up report cited above, the authors, on behalf of Champions 12.3 evaluated the progress governments and companies had made toward achieving Target 12.3, cutting global food waste by 50% by the year 2030. What they found is while 60% of the world's largest food companies by revenue, including the manufacturing, production, processing, retail, and food service sectors, have set specific food loss and waste (FLW) reduction targets in line with Target 12.3, only 10% of them had active, ongoing programs to cut FLW. Granted, it has only been two years since the initiative was announced, but given both the economic and environmental implications, one can only speculate about the apparent reluctance.
There are multiple, possible explanations why food companies, large and small, have yet to join the battle against FLW, not the least of which is that getting started can be time-consuming and disruptive. And because food waste is such an open secret in the industry, so much so that as Paul Hawken described in The Ecology of Commerce, published some 25 years ago, "the ethical entrepreneur, is handicapped financially since he bears the cost of the additional responsibilities he assumed and which his competitors have shunned." Hawken was referring to the persistent, stubborn myth that the business owner who acts to protect the biosphere does so at the peril of his bottom line, weakening his ability to compete, a myth that Hawken debunked brilliantly in the aforementioned The Ecology of Commerce and its sequel, Naturally Capitalism.
The bottom line is the biosphere
As it turns out, Hawken's conclusions are borne out by the results of a 2017 Champions 12.3 publication entitled The Business Case For Food Loss And Waste, in which the researchers found that the benefit cost ratio (BCR) for reducing food waste in restaurants was as high as 614:1. In other words, every $1 dollar invested in food waste reduction potentially returns as much as $614 in value. The median BCR for restaurants was 8:3. Notwithstanding the fact that BCR is typically used just to get a general idea about the financial feasibility of a project, the choice is not between the biosphere and the bottom line. Reducing food waste is not only a boon to the environment, doing so actually gives the ethical restaurateur a competitive edge over those who would sacrifice the biosphere for the sake of the bottom line. Seen from this perspective the, the bottom line is the biosphere. Moreover, gaining such an advantage over your rivals requires that your intent to reduce food waste, acquired and augmented by your staff, permeates your entire company, from sous chefs to servers, from dishwashers to directors until it metastasizes in to an endemic, whole-of-organization intent.
So what about that how-to list?
The ritual of loading the kids into the family station wagon and embarking on a cross-country, summer vacation trip, was once as much a part of Americana as baseball and apple pie. Whether traveling to a familiar place or parts unknown, a map and some board games were absolute necessities, the map to plot a course, the board games a plot to forestall the inevitable "Are we there yet?" from the pubescent, precocious passengers in the back seat. Of the two must-have travel aids, the map was obviously the most important. How would you have like to have been lost and locked in a car with 3.09 screaming baby boomers?
Thankfully. with the advent of the commercialization of the global positioning system (GPS), the scenario described above, plays out far less frequently than it did back in the day. Today apps like Google Maps and MapQuest can provide you with a list of directions to virtually any place on the planet with the click of a button. Finding a how-to-list of ways to reduce food waste is equally gettable. (See links below.) They are also redundant, albeit effective when put to use. But neither the map nor the list is the journey. And the journey, be it the 4-day, 3300-mile, overland trek from New York to California or the long winding road to a 50% reduction in global FLW, begins not with the first step, but with the intent. Are you there yet?