As 2019 ends, I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) come due in just ten years – really just the blink of an eye.
And I find myself reflecting deeply on the “decade” theme – both the ten-year period we have just concluded and the ten-year period to come – one that really matters on multiple sustainability fronts.
We’re just wrapping up the first decade of consequence on food waste, spearheaded by two key books, Waste: Uncovering The Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart and American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom, both of which effectively launched the food waste “movement” (globally and nationally) that we often refer to today. Shortly thereafter, FAO launched the Save Food Initiative and released the frequently-cited report “Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes, and Prevention” which noted that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or waste annually (about 1.3 billion tonnes) and ushered in a wave of studies and publications ever since.
Many of us have been working for the last 10-plus years on the food waste challenge and its critical link toward successfully feeding 10 billion global citizens by 2050 in a sustainable manner. We’ve seen a huge increase in awareness of the scale of food waste, as well as increased knowledge of the magnitude of its negative impact and the critical importance of measurement and behavior change. We’ve seen the release of numerous high-quality publications on food waste, and we’ve seen the growth and expansion of numerous NGOs and businesses to address it. We’ve seen the emergence of numerous conferences (and even movies) to drive the global conversation on food waste. And fortunately, we’ve seen a broad rallying around the nonsensical nature of global food waste: the fact that we are wasting up to half of the global food supply while two in seven global citizens suffer from hunger and/or micronutrient deficiencies – coupled with the fact that we are polluting the planet and accelerating climate change in the process. That has in turn driven accelerated support for Target 12.3’s call to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030, while also reducing food losses along production and supply chains.
As the food waste movement has surged in the last decade there have been innumerable positive developments – and we all have our own personal favorites that continue to motivate us. I could easily cite dozens, such as working with Tristram Stuart and the Feedback Global team at the first Feeding the 5000 event in the U.S. in 2013, and working with Zhengxia Dou and other UPenn colleagues on The Last Food Mile conference in December 2014, where we assembled an incredible slate of global thought leaders in addressing food loss and waste across the supply chain at a pivotal time. Others would include delving deep into the challenge of feeding the world at Expo Milano, working with John Mandyck and Carrier/UTC on four global conferences related to food waste and the cold chain, partnering on coursework and educational ventures with incredible colleagues like Jonathan Bloom, Silvia Gaiani and Sara Roversi, and designing and teaching numerous courses on the food-water-energy nexus and innovation for sustainability while drawing immense energy from so many talented students. Still others would include powerful takeaways from work with non-profits, and working with Andrew Shakman and Leanpath on the most important aspect of food waste – preventing its occurrence in the first place. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with hundreds of talented food waste and sustainability leaders over the last decade, and I am thankful to all of them for their commitment to leading positive change.
As 2019 draws to a close, we all need to reflect, and draw energy from, our pivotal motivational points of the past ten years – because we are just getting into the essential transition from the decade of awareness to the decade of action. We’ve seen numerous recent reports that make the case for urgent, deep change related to our food system – because food drives climate. These include the IPCC report (outlining the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C), the EAT-Lancet report (calling for a transition to a diet that supports healthy people and a healthy planet), the Global Footprint Network’s concept of Earth Overshoot (and report on the case for One-Planet Prosperity), and the recent UNEP Emissions Gap report, which succinctly explains the need to close the commitment gap between what we say we will do to reduce climate-impacting emissions and what we must do.
In short, we need to turn all of momentum from recent years into action, and doing so will require an entirely new level of global commitment, and global collaboration.
Back in 2002, in an article in Progressive Politics, Jean Francois-Rischard outlined 20 urgent global problems – many of which underlie the Sustainable Development Goals today – and called for new global solutions to solve them by 2020. Recognizing the “planetary” nature of these problems amid an increasingly connected world, he saw the need for a new framework of collective action – and called for more “intelligent alliances” between public and private bodies and civil society.
Rischard was ahead of his time – and as I reflect on the last ten years of work on food waste reduction and look ahead to the next ten, I think it’s safe to say that twenty years later we need that new collaborative framework more than ever.