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Food Recovery: The Simple Step Your Business Can Take To Help Your Community
By Regina Northouse, Executive Director, Food Recovery Network and Hayley Brundige, Communications & Partner Engagement Fellow, Food Recovery Network
Recovering surplus food from your business or event is the simple, big impact trend you may not be considering. Food recovery works to address an alarming paradox in the United States food system: 40 percent of food that is produced ends up in landfills, while one in six Americans struggle with food insecurity. Imagine if your company hosted a luncheon, put on a conference, or operated a cafe and 40 percent of the food was thrown away at the end of the day. Food waste costs Americans $218 billion every year, accounts for 25 percent of freshwater use, and constitutes 23 percent of methane emissions—a greenhouse gas 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Studies have shown that if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the U.S. and China.
At Food Recovery Network, a national network of more than 230 chapters at colleges and universities, we are committed to fighting food waste and feeding people. We provide guidance and resources to student leaders who recover surplus food from their dining halls after class and business leaders who wish to make their companies more sustainable while saving money. Our model at FRN promotes two of the approaches to reducing food waste outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy: source reduction and feeding hungry people with surplus food. Our chapters have recovered more than 2.7 million pounds of food, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 4.8 million kilograms. We're experts at establishing food recovery programs, big and small, to help businesses get started doing the right thing.
Through FRN’s Food Recovery Verified (FRV) program, we recognize and reward businesses across sectors that are donating surplus food at least once per month to nonprofits. We created this program because the thousands of students in our network–a very powerful bloc–wanted to know that businesses, restaurants, and events were also doing the right thing with their surplus food. We now work with more than 113 accounts in 32 states that represent 15 sectors, including corporate dining, museums, hospitals, and hotels. A few of our FRV accounts include Bon Appétit dining at Best Buy Headquarters, Twitter, Inc., and Zulily as well as Sodexo accounts at Humana HUB and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Our FRV program can provide businesses with several services and benefits. First, we offer third party verification of your food recovery program and recognition by the largest student movement comprised of thousands of people passionate about reducing food waste. Tax incentives may also be available to organizations donating surplus food to nonprofits. FRN can help your company with this process. The FRV window sticker we send to businesses is an easy way to appeal to customers, who immediately recognize that the business donates its surplus food to those in need. In addition, FRN provides marketing materials such as table tents and posters to educate staff and promote excitement about your company doing the right thing with surplus food.
We are the national experts in recovering prepared foods. Becoming Food Recovery Verified means that we can support you in finding ways to improve your food donation programs and reduce waste. Our team works with each account to create a specialized food recovery protocol or enhance one already in place. Last October, for example, Michelle Malloy, event coordinator for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), noticed that food from its annual meetings was regularly being wasted. For the 2017 NARUC annual meeting in Baltimore, she decided to do something about it.
Becoming Food Recovery Verified means that we can support you in finding ways to improve your food donation programs and reduce waste
Not knowing much about the food recovery process, Malloy reached out to Food Recovery Network for help. Our team helped Malloy not only understand the fundamentals of food recovery, but also helped her establish a recovery plan. We provided her with the resources to communicate with the venue’s kitchen management, recruit volunteers, and provide recognition by verifying the event. She helped her organization recover 136 pounds of food in one day, which means her efforts fed more than 110 people a meal that day. By educating and supporting Malloy, our team has helped NARUC start a trend of food recovery from events and feel empowered to do the same for future meetings.
Implementing a food recovery program for your business or next event can lead to immediate financial benefit. A study by Champions 12.3 that analyzed 1,200 business sites across 17 countries and more than 700 companies found that reducing food waste can be a “triple win.” It can save money for farmers, companies and households; feed more people; and protect environmental resources such as water and land. Further, the report found that for every $1 invested in food loss and waste reduction, the median company site realized a $14 return. This is equivalent to a 1,300 percent return on investment.
There are also priceless incentives for starting a food recovery program that cannot be overstated. Younger generations are demanding corporate social and ethical responsibility from the companies and businesses they decide to patron. Delivering perfectly good food that would otherwise be wasted to those in need can increase morale among the employees cooking and preparing the food. Benjamin Montgomery, who started the FRV program at Southern Kern Unified School District in San Diego, told us that recovering surplus food should be a priority at every business. “We are the wealthiest country in the world and yet we have people who aren't sure where their next meal is coming from,” Montgomery said. “It's our responsibility as a company and as people to help in any way we can. Becoming Food Recovery Verified was a great first step in the process because from here we only move forward.”
In addition to the support our team at FRN can provide, there are several companies with software and technology that can support your food recovery program. These companies are leading food recovery innovation. For example, LeanPath helps businesses make data-driven decisions to minimize waste and maximize profit. Another company, Zero Percent, facilitates the delivery of leftover foods from restaurants, corporate caterers, and grocery stores to nonprofits in need for a small fee. And MintScraps is an online platform that assists restaurants and food service businesses in tracking and monitoring food waste as well as implementing new waste management solutions to reduce waste and uncover cost savings.
Developing a food recovery program for your business can be a simple solution to the complex issues of food waste and food insecurity. The solution doesn’t have to cost your company that much money, and in fact, will save your business money over time. More, the solution doesn’t need to be high-tech to boost employee morale and your standing in the eyes of your community. At FRN, we understand that it is nearly impossible to perfectly predict the amount of food needed for each meal event. By having a recovery plan in place that is customized for your company, you can equip your staff with the tools necessary to reduce surplus food at the very start of meal prep, thereby saving your company precious dollars. Implementing a recovery plan means you can rest assured that when there is surplus food, that food can benefit your community.