News & people

74% of supply chain heads are not yet tracking food waste despite link to climate crisis

Research from Sodexo suggests the link between food waste and carbon emissions is still not understood – indicating a radical, rapid change is needed in the food services sector to reduce carbon emissions and assist in the fight against climate change.

Businesses in the food service sector will not achieve carbon net-zero climate goals without urgently turning their attention to the issue of food waste. This is the stark warning emerging today from Sodexo, which has launched its ‘Appetite for Action’ campaign.

The catering and facilities management business has commissioned a study examining food buying trends amongst some of the largest private and public sector organisations in the UK, finding that nearly three-quarters (74%) of senior decision-makers in the supply chain and in food procurement are currently not tracking the amount of food their organisation wastes.

These findings, released with the eyes of the world on Glasgow’s COP26, clearly demonstrate that, while the connection between day-to-day activities such as air travel and carbon emissions is well understood, food waste has yet to sufficiently cut through. This is despite WRAP’s data suggesting total food waste in the UK amounts to 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and the government planning to consult on the potential of mandating food waste reporting.

Sodexo, which has pledged to cut its own food waste by 50% by 2025 – using WasteWatch technology powered by LeanPath – found that just 26% of food procurement professionals prioritise food waste in achieving carbon reduction goals.

More encouragingly though, the majority (93%) of respondents said they are considering changing their organisation’s procurement criteria to reduce food waste in the next 12 months, with almost the same proportion saying they will be tracking food waste by 2025 (94%).

The study’s findings, however, clearly show that organisations are looking for outside assistance to help them achieve the necessary cuts in food waste, with almost two-thirds (64%) suggesting direction from the government needs to be made clearer through stronger policy and regulation. A similar proportion (62%) said government advice on how to use technology would be helpful whilst 63% also believe carbon labelling on meals would instigate behavioural change.

Sean Haley, Chairman at Sodexo UK & Ireland, commented: “Food waste is a problem long before consumers scrape leftovers off their plate. There is currently wastage at every stage of the food system from farm to fork – this requires urgent intervention. We feel strongly that every organisation that procures food at volume should commit to, and crucially action, a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030 at the latest in line with the UN’s SDGs – although our own target is five years earlier than that. The first step towards cutting food waste is tracking and monitoring it – we are seeing significant results from this approach. While tackling food waste alone is not the silver bullet, it is a key component of our net zero ambition, enabling us to live up to our broader purpose of continuing to support and improve the communities in which we live, work and serve.”

Food waste is an indefensible issue in light of the climate crisis, with a United Nations study suggesting that if food waste was a country then it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US. But food procurement and supply chain heads face enormous challenges, one of which is the recent transition to hybrid working. Over half (60%) said hybrid work environments make it difficult for businesses to plan how many diners they’ll have each day. The same proportion (60%) also said using food that might otherwise have been wasted (e.g. vegetable peelings) on menus has an image problem for consumers – but it’s one they want to change.

It’s clear more urgent action on food waste is needed, with just 13% of survey respondents suggesting their employees are aware that minimising food waste can help their organisation to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

Furthermore, it is concerning that food waste does not feature on the COP26 agenda. When asked for the one reason why they believed it had been de-prioritised, 15% of respondents said it was because of the cost of driving change, while another 14% said it was because there’s not enough awareness of the link between food waste and carbon emissions. The same percentage also said there was a lack of understanding across government and industry on how to drive change.

In 2019, the Sodexo Group announced it had renewed its £1.3 billion revolving credit facility (RCF) to incorporate a pricing adjustment based on Sodexo’s performance towards its 50% reduction in food waste and food losses by 2025 goal.

Whilst in the last 12 months, Sodexo has deployed its WasteWatch technology powered by Leanpath at 229 sites across the UK, preventing over 280 tonnes of food waste, the equivalent of 500,000 meals. The business, which prior to the pandemic was producing in excess of one million meals per day in the UK and Ireland, sees its food waste strategy as a key element of its net zero roadmap. This was launched last month, following the validation of Sodexo’s near-term (2030) target by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Keith James, Head of Policy and Insights at WRAP commented: “This report from Sodexo makes for interesting reading and given the impact of COVID-19 we know many businesses are finding it hard to focus on outside asks, such as reducing their carbon emissions, when they have been struggling to keep their doors open. But with greenhouse gas emissions from total UK food waste equivalent to that of 16 million cars, we all must focus on making whatever difference we can. That is why WRAP introduced the Guardians of Grub campaign to help support wider sector movement right now towards the goals of the Courtauld Commitment 2030 voluntary agreement, of which Sodexo is a very active partner.”

Learn more about why your business needs to change its waste removal practices.