IMG_20151202_035255707Carrier Corporation’s second annual World Cold Chain Summit To Reduce Food Waste, held earlier this month in Singapore, continued the incredibly important conversation on reducing global food waste by improving the cold chain.  The tropical climate and the clear view of numerous container ships in the surrounding waters, coupled with the fact that Singapore imports roughly 90% of its food supply, made the island nation a very fitting choice for the conference.

Pre-conference work began with a tour of Carrier’s Transicold Singapore refrigeration container manufacturing facility — a very clean, efficient operation which has produced more than one million units to date.  Carrier’s refrigeration units are designed “to enable better food quality, safety, and traceability” — obviously critical themes regarding food loss and waste prevention.  The tour included discussion of its NaturaLINE series — refrigeration units which utilize recycled CO2 to lower environmental impact for marine shipping.

The ensuing conference was a truly global event, with participants and speakers from 35 countries.  Carrier President David Appel kicked off the event noting that interest in the cold chain has never been greater, and that by driving improvements in the cold chain (particularly in developing countries) we can successfully feed more people.  He added that Carrier wants to make a quantifiable reduction in global food waste — a worthy goal and one which is perfectly in sync with the company’s business operations.

United Technologies’ CSO John Mandyck, co-author of Food Foolish, followed, noted that Carrier has a unique perspective on the issue of global food waste given its focus on refrigeration.  Mandyck pointed out that Carrier keeps more food fresh before it reaches the consumer’s refrigerator than any entity on the planet.  As such, Carrier is well-positioned to play a key role in helping the world meet the critical challenge of feeding nine billion by 2050 in a sustainable manner.

Mandyck also referenced the major categories of food (fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, cereals, roots & tubers, and oilseeds & pulses) noted in FAO’s Food Wastage Footprint summary report and effectively pointed out that all of these groupings have one thing in common — their lives can be extended with refrigeration. The point: longer shelf lives should equate to less food wastage.

The problem of food waste goes far beyond the urgent need of feeding all global citizens.  The environmental externalities associated with food waste — including air pollution through greenhouse gas emissions from rotting food in landfills, extensive waste of water resources, soil degradation and the waste of all resource inputs associated with food wastage — are extremely significant.  Mandyck pointed out the “ugly truth” that such vast amounts of resources are squandered because we waste roughly 40% of our food.  It’s a harsh reality that we need to address.  In a world of rapidly increasing population and increasingly scarce resources, we simply can’t afford such waste — not from an economic standpoint, and certainly not from a moral standpoint.

He also pointed to the challenge and opportunity in food waste, noting that while we currently grow enough food to feed 10 billion people, we are only successfully in feeding about 6 billion — leaving another billion hungry.  With the global population expected to reach 9.6 billion in just 35 years, we have a significant challenge ahead.  As the World Resources Institute notes in a key report, reducing food loss and waste is a significant opportunity to help close the gap between current food production and the amount of food that will be needed to feed the global population in 2050 and beyond.

Mandyck also noted that food waste isn’t amorphous – it is quite tangible and can be quantified in numerous impactful ways.  In dollar terms, for example, the annual cost of food waste is estimated at $2.6 trillion — with more than $1 trillion in pure economic costs, roughly $900 million in social costs (health, loss of livelihood, and risk of conflict due to lack of food security), and $700 million in environmental costs (greenhouse gas emissions, wasted water, land and soil impact, etc.).  We can also consider the often-cited statistic that if food waste were a country, it would rank third in terms of greenhouse gas emissions behind China and the United States.  Statistics aside, a look into the back of most retail and restaurant operations, and even our own household trash bins, will clearly show the extensive amount of food waste occurring in developed countries alone.  And with water scarcity deservedly gaining increased attention in the wake of severe drought conditions in the U.S. West and other parts of the world, it’s critical to consider that we use 70% of the world’s fresh water in agriculture — only to end up discarding 40% of our food.  As Mandyck noted, food waste is a tremendous opportunity, “and the low hanging fruit is literally rotting right in front of us.”

There are numerous ways to address food waste along the supply chain, and clearly improvements in the global cold chain can have great impact.  As Mandyck pointed out, the single best way that we know of to preserve our food is through refrigeration, and he used a powerful example to drive home the point — noting that while India produces 28% of the world’s bananas, it exports only .3% due in part to insufficient cold chain infrastructure.  With an improved cold chain, India could achieve greater economic growth through increased exports.  Such improvements would apply to other developing regions as well.

Carrier’s Singapore Summit on Food Waste Reduction built nicely on last year’s session in London, and the timing — both in terms of the recent U.S. announcement to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 as well as the Paris Climate talks — was perfect.  The company is to be commended for linking its business operations to arguably the most pressing challenge facing the planet, and, as John Mandyck noted, for seeking to harness the momentum on food waste reduction by connecting the silos to form an effective global dialog (a frequent theme on this blog).  Well done.

More to follow on this very impactful conference.