Strange as it might sound, one reason that over a billion tons of food are thrown out each year is that, somehow, businesses don’t see reducing waste as cost-effective. Too many restaurants, supermarkets, and hotels are “unaware or unsure of the impact” it has on their finances, as Dave Lewis, who chairs a group of businesspeople and NGO heads committed to curbing food waste, explains. Figuring this was a teachable moment, his group, called Champions 12:3, has decided to try to show them the error in their thinking.
As CEO of supermarket chain Tesco, Lewis doesn’t entirely fault their caution, which he tells Fast Company he mostly attributes to the lack of “published economic analysis that CEOs can use to demonstrate what, exactly, their companies stand to gain by curbing waste.” Of course, tossing out unused goods registers as a drain on resources, but many business owners think it’s the cost of doing business, and that fixing the problem — with all the equipment upgrades, employee retraining, and whatnot — would cost them even more. So Champions 12:3 commissioned their new report, and it’s yielded compelling data for why reducing waste is a solid business plan: Researchers from the World Resources Institute and the Waste Recycling Action Plan analyzed more than 1,200 food companies, grocery stores, hotels, and restaurants in 17 countries; and they found a $14 return on every $1 invested in food-waste prevention. Ninety-nine percent of these companies saw a positive return on investment, and it was greater than 14-to-1 for half of them.
On the whole, restaurants benefited most, but in a couple of cases, not as much as governments that targeted food waste. Per Fast Company:
The report found similar benefits to countries and cities that ramp up food-waste reduction efforts: A U.K.-wide initiative to reduce household food waste that launched in 2007 resulted in a benefit-to-cost ratio of 250:1; an initiative in six West London boroughs saw a 92:1 ratio, from factors like savings in waste management from cities and household savings on food.
Champions 12:3 hopes the obvious takeaway for anyone in either the private or public sector who deals with food spoilage is that reducing it “presents a real business opportunity.”