Earlier this month I was pleased to join colleagues from around the world in Singapore for Carrier/UTC’s third annual World Cold Chain Summit to reduce global food loss and waste. Refrigeration has a huge role to play in preserving food, particularly in less developed countries, and Carrier is playing a key role in driving the conversation on the need to reduce loss and waste along the global food supply chain. It’s a critical challenge, one that has significant social, environmental, financial, and security implications. It’s also a monumental opportunity.
This year’s Summit convened 163 multi-disciplinary delegates from 36 countries around the world, all with an interest in addressing the challenge of reducing global food wastage. Highlights from this energizing event follow.
David Appel of Carrier Transicold Refrigeration Systems kicked things off, outlining Carrier’s role in preserving and protecting the world’s food supply from harvest to consumer. A key theme in this space is innovation, and Appel outlined Carrier’s investments in digital and wireless technologies that allow the company to track the temperature and geolocation of more than 10 million customer shipments annually (and, importantly, to predict failures before they occur). The scale is impressive. He also detailed Carrier’s work in engineless technology and natural refrigerants – important innovations to reduce the emissions impact of the cold chain in the future.
John Mandyck of UTC followed with an effective overview of global food loss and waste, noting that while the world currently produces enough food to feed 10 billion global citizens we’re only feeding 6 of 7 billion (nearly one billion are hungry, while even more experience micronutrient deficiencies). At the same time, we waste 40-50% of our food (about 1.3 billion metric tons of food annually). That coexistence of hunger and excessive waste clearly makes no sense, and he asked the compelling question: Where else in society would we tolerate that level of wastage?
He added that the global population will grow by 30% by 2050, with 70% living in cities. In other words, we continue to move further away from our food, and that presents additional logistics and storage challenges (and opportunities). Pointing to FAO’s classification of food waste by type, Mandyck noted that refrigeration has the potential to reduce loss and waste among all of them.
He mentioned the enormous environmental impact of food loss and waste in terms of emissions (3.6 billion metric tons of CO2 annually) – pointing out that if ranked as a country, food waste would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Those emissions are not only concerning from a climate change standpoint, but they also lead to an increase in ocean acidification and threaten global seafood stocks.
He followed with two key points. First, less than 10% of the perishable foods in the world are refrigerated today. Second, if we extend the current cold chain from developed countries to less developed countries, there is a ten to one benefit in terms of carbon reduction. Clearly, there is significant opportunity to advance food security through cold chain advancements, while simultaneously achieving environmental benefits.
Clementine O’Connor covered UNEP’s Think-Eat-Save program, while also indicating that we are producing enough food to feed the planet today. She pointed to food loss and waste across the entire value chain, from production to consumption, noting that it costs the global economy $940 billion annually.
O’Connor referenced the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, a key marker which calls for halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030 and reducing food losses along production and supply chains.
She also called for additional food waste reduction targets in multiple areas (such as Latin America, Asia, Africa, cities, and agribusiness companies), greater measurement work, and additional action steps – outlining possible approaches for reducing food loss and waste at various points of the value chain, presenting key steps in prevention programs, and suggesting the need for 1) more action, by more entities, across more regions, 2) additional efforts to make the business case for food waste reduction, 3) increased investment, and 4) an acceleration of capacity building.
Eva Goulbourne of REFED followed, covering the collaborative effort of multiple stakeholders that culminated in the Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent as well as key U.S. market drivers for food waste reduction. She quantified the food waste problem in the U.S., noting that every year American consumers, businesses, and farms spend $218 billion (more than one percent of GDP) on food that is never eaten. That translates to about 63 million tons of wasted food, and involves the waste of all associated resources involved in production.
The ReFED team developed (and ranked) a suite of 27 solutions to reduce U.S. food waste by 20% in the next decade, with an $18 billion investment forecasted to yield $100 billion in societal economic value. Those solutions were grouped into prevention, recovery, and recycling solutions, and ranked by economic value per ton and diversion potential per ton. Prevention and recovery solutions are the most cost effective, while recycling solutions are the most scalable. The payback is impressive. Seriously, how often does one get the opportunity for a five to one payback on any investment? Sign me up.
Goulbourne pointed out that when assessing food waste, “the multi-stakeholder collaborative element should not be undervalued.” I couldn’t agree more. The issue of food loss and waste reduction literally screams for collaboration and innovation across all disciplines – it is a system problem requiring systemic solutions. And to paraphrase Jonathan Foley, we need to think not in terms of a silver bullet but in terms of silver buckshot. Education programs, aimed at changing behavior and, ultimately, our wasteful culture, are of critical importance.
Gerald Cavalier of Cemafroid (France) led the next panel, reiterating that only 10% of perishables are transported by refrigeration and linking to last year’s discussion on steps to improve the cold chain.
Pawanexh Kohli of the National Center for Cold Chain Development (India) then provided some grounded and very effective comments for the group, reminding us that food is produced to be eaten, and that it must be handled accordingly. Kohli noted that we shouldn’t view the cold chain as a science experiment, but as a means to get food to its ultimate use – human consumption. Very aptly put. Food “escapes” consumption when it perishes due to inadequate transportation and storage capabilities and/or inaccessible markets. Kohli posited that we are not a supply-constrained society, but a delivery-constrained society. He offered a new perspective for food loss and waste: it’s not that we lose only 30% of food production, but that we lose 100% of what we are incapable of handling. That’s a powerful way to view food loss and waste, because it puts the responsibility on us. As Mark Mitchell of Supercool Asia Pacific noted last year, developed countries have tremendous cold chain capability, and we have a moral responsibility to transfer that knowledge to less developed countries to feed people and reduce the environmental externalities associated with wasted food. Kohli went on to emphasize that “food loss is NOT sustainable” and called for “greater global collaboration for global sustenance.”
Zhongfu Cui of the China Federation of Logistics and Planning provided insight into the business opportunity in China’s cold chain logistics industry, which is expected to grow by more than 20% in the next three to five years. Cui noted that China is now the world’s largest food importer, and that developments such as increasing urbanization, enlightened consumers (valuing safety and quality over price), and a tough new food safety law are all putting a premium on the effective transportation of food – all of which translates to the need for an improved cold chain. The business opportunity is real, and exciting.
Judith Evans of London South Bank University gave an update on the work of the International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) with a focus on the organization’s work in developing the cold chain in hot climates. Key objectives include raising awareness on the importance of cold chain compliance among multiple food system stakeholders, identifying the challenges of food preservation, storage, and distribution in warm countries, updating guidelines on storage and transportation of perishable foods, and creating training materials on sound cold chain practices in warm countries.
Pawanexh Kohli summed up this session nicely, noting that “the time has come for us to start using our food more effectively,” and reiterating that an effective cold chain makes farms more productive while reducing their ecological footprint. Both are key themes in the quest to sustainably feed 9.6 billion people by 2050.
In the next session we explored “hot spots” in emerging markets. Annette Young of ExFresh built on the prior discussion, elaborating on the rapid growth of the cold chain segment in China and the challenges and opportunities therein. Sylvain Dabade of the University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin) gave a fascinating summary of his research regarding the challenges of cold chain management and implementation in West African countries. Dabade cited numerous supply chain characteristics, such as lack of cold storage equipment and facilities, poor transportation systems, lack of refrigerated transport, poor packaging of food items, and a lack of cold chain awareness and education. He also pointed to cultural issues, including a basic problem that fishermen believe that because their just-caught shrimp are fresh they don’t need ice. The results are predictable: high food losses and a prior ban on shrimp exports resulting in thousands of lost jobs. Dabade pointed to the need for increased awareness of proper cold chain management among local stakeholders, more cold chain investment by local governments, and his hope that importing (i.e. developed) countries would provide technical and managerial cold chain assistance for exporting (i.e. less developed) countries like Benin. Again, I was struck not only by the business opportunity, but the moral imperative here.
Majeed Mohammed followed, detailing his work with Lisa Kitinoja and the Postharvest Education Foundation on cold chain gaps in the Caribbean. Mohammed provided compelling visual examples of food losses in supermarkets, marine and air shipments, the hotel industry, and inter-island trade. The causes of losses were many, and basic, including lack of refrigeration in transport vehicles throughout distribution, co-storage of incompatible food products, improperly cleaned/poorly ventilated refrigerated containers, lack of pre-cooling before loading into containers, poor packaging (damp cardboard, inadequate carton strength to resist crushing, insufficient ventilation), inadequate insulation, and rough handling.
Reflecting on these many (and again, basic) causes of food loss, Richard Tracy of the Global Cold Chain Alliance appropriately pointed out that “we already know what we need to do” to have impact, we just need to come together and do it. To me, it’s an issue of global community, not to mention security. The developed world has a responsibility to transfer knowledge and assist cold chain development. As Mohammed noted, The Postharvest Education Foundation is leading the educational charge — conducting postharvest e-learning programs to benefit small farmers, providing free access to postharvest training materials for food producers and distributors, supplying tools and equipment for applied research and field operations, and organizing workshops and courses to reduce food loss and waste around the globe. Notably, its graduates are now working in 28 countries around the globe and impacting 30,000 farmers and food handlers annually.
We moved on to issues of food loss and waste in mature markets. Ben Horsbrugh of Greenyard Foods (Belgium) discussed the challenges of cold chain with respect to fresh produce, focusing on data management, climatic conditions, and the retail store (i.e. point of sale). Scott Devers of Kuehne & Nagel followed, calling attention to the twin problems of a lack of cold chain knowledge and training within the refrigerated transport sector. Devers cited high staff turnover, limited training time, and the lack of available training programs within the industry as particular problems, and called for investment in training for new hires, top down educational programs for those in the cold chain industry, and unified guidelines for cold chain handling. He also pointed to an industry problem of numerous containers moving without preconditioned product due to limited cold chain knowledge, lack of infrastructure, time constraints, and the quest for cost savings. Again, the results are predictable: reduced shelf life, risk of disease, food waste, and financial claims. It’s important to note that these results emanate from conscious decisions; we know how to correct them.
Adam Wade of Lion (Australia) provided impactful insights from a case study geared toward improving customer service through reduced food wastage. Wade noted the challenges of distance and temperature in transporting dairy products across the vast expanse of Australia, coupled with heightened expectations among their customers to extend product shelf life. Lion collaborated with customers and industry experts while testing and studying trailer loads of product. Among their many key findings: internal trailer temperatures can vary considerably, continuous airflow settings on refrigeration units are important, load restraints warrant consideration, and product packaging and wraps matter. As a result of this study, significant reductions in costs and customer complaints have been achieved through reduced transport failures. Lion has also emerged with an impressive list of outcomes, including a clearly defined refrigeration policy for carrying its freight, an auditing and compliance program for shipments, and a “defined future state” for vehicles carrying outbound freight. In addition, the company went further, committing to drive improvement in the state of refrigerated transport in Australia. Together, these learnings not only improve food safety, they reduce food wastage, save resources, benefit the environment, improve customer service, and save money. Lion’s work clearly has triple bottom line benefit, and in my mind clearly translates to competitive advantage. Their work is a great model for other companies in the food sector.
Our second day began with a panel “exploration” of various cold chain ideas. Pankaj Mehta of Carrier Transicold discussed the results of a pilot project to reduce fruit loss in India involving kinnow – a variety of mandarin orange. Mehta noted that while India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, only one percent of that production is exported due to lack of cold chain capability, and much goes to waste. Another statistic that screams opportunity for cold chain development! Comparing results for a specific farmer with 800 hectares, Mehta showed the benefits in terms of increased profit and reduced environmental impact from a shift to proper cold chain procedures.
Eric Prieur of Carrier Transicold discussed the benefits of ecolabels and cold chain certification, and Kevin Fay discussed the work of the Global Food Cold Chain Council (GFCCC) to 1) reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to the processing, storage, transportation, and retailing of cold food and 2) stimulate global demand for energy efficient, low global warming potential (GWP) technology. Fay pointed out that a well-developed food cold chain benefits both global food supply and climate, resulting in reductions in food loss and food waste as well as the development of more efficient refrigeration equipment with less environmental impact. Again, such gains positively impact global security. He discussed three key steps to drive policy change, including research to expand cold chain knowledge, outreach to extend cold chain-related connections around the globe, and implementation efforts to deploy knowledge through connections. He also cited a key point from Deloitte’s cold chain research that we discussed last year: the decrease in the food loss and waste carbon footprint from cold chain expansion exceeds the newly created emissions from that expansion by a factor of ten. A sound investment indeed.
Mark Mitchell and I discussed FoodPort, a concept born from Mark’s reflection that much food goes to waste in developed countries because too often there is no place to take it for an alternate use. We don’t value our food properly, and disposal is far too easy, hence we waste 40% of it. Mark drew a metaphor to airports – early air travel was frustrating for passengers as infrastructure was not properly developed and airlines did not properly value their passengers. Decades later, airlines move millions of passengers around the world daily with great efficiency and safety, and travelers have access to ever-increasing amenities at modern airports. The development of hospitals can be viewed similarly; patients have access to numerous specialists and procedures because their lives are so highly valued.
FoodPort provides a location where excess food of all types can be taken for storage and redistribution, value added processing, animal feed production, innovative food product development, anaerobic digestion, and/or composting. It is an advanced, automated facility where excess food can be monetized, and therefore optimized, in multiple ways (essentially covering all aspects of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy in one location). It is a natural accelerator for public private partnerships with social, environmental, and economic purpose.
FoodPort can be scaled and replicated, yet also tailored to local market conditions such as access to a seaport, airlines, food banks, animal herds, and farmland. It supports behavior change by giving options for excess food. We intend to further develop the idea based on feedback from attendees, and we hope that the discussion will inspire others to draw on other stories and metaphors to aid development of other food waste reduction pilots.
Nitin Puri (Yes Bank) and Brad Johnson (RMA) then discussed the environment for cold chain financing. Johnson noted that many governments are submitting plans for agricultural projects to address climate change following the Paris agreement. He also noted that agriculture projects are driven by local economic concerns as much as by carbon reduction, and that – on a positive note – cold chain projects generally have more local benefits than renewable energy projects. Pointing to the Green Climate Fund and other potential funding sources, he advised that the best way to obtain financing for cold chain development is to prove out one or two projects with significant benefits/impact – and additional funding will follow.
Last, John Mandyck summarized a busy two-day session, highlighting key points from all of the discussions and leaving conference attendees with four key points:
- For three years, Carrier has sought to initiate a more robust dialog on food loss and waste through these Summits, and it is working
- We’ve moved from the “why” on food loss and waste to the “how”
- We can continue to build on the “age of food efficiency” declared last year
- We should continue to look at food loss and waste not as a challenge, but an opportunity
Reflecting on this year’s Summit, and the takeaways from the two prior events, I again come back to Richard Tracy’s comment: “we know what we need to do.” The amount of food loss and waste across the globe each year is staggering. The social, environmental, and financial costs are excessive, and unsustainable. And the moral case for change is strong. We can feed the planet now by effectively capturing what we lose and waste, and we can get big environmental and financial paybacks to boot. Why wouldn’t we embrace that? Momentum on food waste reduction is building, but we can, and should, move faster across the globe. As Clementine O’Connor noted, we need more action by more entities across more regions. We need to move from a “produce more, discard more” mindset in developed countries to production and consumption patterns that emphasize efficiency and responsibility — and that requires education and culture change. And as the Carrier Summits have shown, there are real opportunities in cold chain to be embraced, especially regarding expanding populations in less developed countries and in terms of the urbanization trend (feeding cities).
I also come back to Pawanexh Kohli’s comment: “it’s not that we lose only 30% of food production, but that we lose 100% of what we are incapable of handling.” Such reframing is a powerful motivator. We have too many hungry global citizens, and too many resource and environmental challenges, to waste so much of our food. We have a responsibility to do much better.