Across the globe, over 850 million people live through periods of undernourishment. That staggering statistic is made all the more alarming by another closely related one; nearly a third of all food goes to waste. That amounts to 1.6 billion tons in lost or discarded food every year. A recent report from the Boston Consulting Group predicts this annual figure will rise steadily over the next decade. By 2030, they expect global food waste to constitute a $1.5 trillion problem.
Wasteful practices, ineffective tools, and poor communication across global food supply chains do more than contribute to world hunger. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the food industry is responsible for 8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
Though the report points to a grim reality, BCG insists there is a "clear way forward" for addressing the issue of global food waste. They suggest that our current situation is not merely a growing global problem, but a $700 billion opportunity. BCG acknowledges, however, that the solution to this epidemic is less obvious than its severity. Addressing global food waste concerns, they write, "demands commitment from and collaboration among numerous players." These players include governments, international trade and aid organizations, consumers, and - most notably - "companies that operate in the food value chain."
Touching the food supply chain at every stage, these businesses have the potential to exert an outsize impact and meet this growing concern head-on. The report offers companies a list of 13 initiatives broken into 70 discrete action items. These include educating farmers, localizing food chains to reduce time to market, and developing products and packaging that incentivize consumer's to behave more sustainably.
Companies who take action will enjoy far more than the satisfaction of doing the right thing. BCG's report suggests they also stand to "reap significant business awards." Addressing food waste effectively will mean leveraging new technologies and optimizing a variety of business processes. Over time, these changes will help reduce costs and promote more strategic practices. Efforts to reduce food loss could also help uncover new opportunities to turn byproducts and waste into revenue generators.
Particularly forward-thinking businesses will enjoy the less tangible - though no less valuable - benefit of improved relationships with a number of stakeholder groups. Most notably, these businesses can expect the affection and admiration of their consumers.
BCG concludes their report by outlining three next steps for those organizations ready to begin making a change. They first urge business leaders to focus their energy. Rather than attempting to act on all 13 initiatives, companies should assess their options and determine which initiatives are most relevant and most achievable. As an example, they suggest storage and transportation companies should kick-start their efforts by working to develop cold chain infrastructures in emerging markets. Establishing partnerships, too, is an essential next step. "Once companies know where they want to act," they write, "they should look for partners that can accelerate their efforts." BCG believes that collaboration between the public and private sector could provide for a transformative exchange of ideas and insights. Lastly, they stress the importance of establishing goals and measuring ongoing impact. Doing so will keep momentum from flagging and encourage both internal and external stakeholders to remain invested in addressing global food waste.
The companies who take these steps have the potential to make a world of difference - both for themselves and the world as a whole.