Fueled by a surge in employee, customer and investor pressure to act on climate, and the near universal recognition of how a warming planet threatens the global economy, businesses are stepping up their climate commitments in a big way. This was especially true in September, when hundreds of companies announced their intentions at Climate Week, and in August when the Business Roundtable unveiled its new take on the purpose of a corporation: to “serve all its stakeholders” and “protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.”
Why? First, I’m the mother of a toddler who oscillates between being a bottomless pit, easily cleaning her plate, to being a picky eater who only takes a couple of bites before the bulk of her meal ends up in the trash.
Second, I’m married to a chef who, because he’s a smart businessman, runs his kitchen with the precision of a comptroller: wasted food means lost profit, so every scrap of food is utilized wherever possible.
Finally, I interface almost daily with Walmart, the world’s largest grocer. Walmart recently pledged to root out 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas reductions from its global supply chain, and I’m certain that food waste will play an integral part in reaching that goal.
But before you conclude that I’m an outlier—some sort of obsessive, “food waste weirdo”— a recent study shows that I’m not the only one struggling with this issue:
- American’s waste approximately 80 billion lbs. of food each year;
- 77.22% of those surveyed feel guilty about throwing all that food away.
Now we all know that just because one feels guilty about something doesn’t mean one’s behavior will change. Cost, however, is a frequent driver of behavior, so consider these numbers:
- Only 42.1% of people surveyed understand that wasted food is also money lost;
- Food waste actually represents $1,350 to $2,275 lost each year to family of four.
In other words, 2.5-4% of the 2015 US median household income is being thrown away! That’s bad news for our wallets—and our planet (NRDC estimates that food rotting in landfills accounts for 16% of U.S. methane emissions).
So it’s a no-brainer that wasting food serves no one’s interests. What’s not so clear is: what can be done about it?
A business opportunity… with a coveted consumer
This is where I see a real opportunity for grocers—like Walmart—and the food companies that fill their shelves. For the most part, these companies are talking non-stop these days about how to win over the most coveted customer of all, the “millennial mom”.
Inviting millennial moms to be partners on eliminating food waste could be the perfect strategy. They are young (meaning they have years of brand loyalty ahead of them), cost-conscious and environmentally engaged; saving them money while alleviating their food waste guilt is a clear win-win.
I’m not saying this will be easy; that same study reveals that real barriers exist:
- 59.3% of consumers surveyed believe food waste is necessary to make sure meals taste good ;
- 51.2% of those same consumers think it would be difficult to reduce household food waste further.
However, while conceding that it’s difficult (if not downright un-wise) to portray millennial moms as a monolithic group, marketing profiles of these women consistently portray them as, a.) hungry for information about products; and b.) willing to take action on issues… but only if roadblocks or impediments have been removed.
So, grocers and food companies, how can you burnish your brand with millennial moms while making a real dent in food waste?
Step number 1: engage and educate
Run marketing campaigns, both in-store and out, that will inform these coveted customers on:
- Proper handling and storage of their food to minimize spoilage; and
- How to fully utilize their food purchases. In other words, teach them to think like my husband, the chef, so they can make use of scraps and leftovers.
Step number 2: make it easy
Design and implement initiatives that make for fun, easy adoption:
- Clarify date labeling so that perfectly good food isn’t perceived as bad. The USDA just requested that companies switch to “best if used by” language to give consumers more accurate guidance.
- Suggest meals that enable moms to buy just what they need—and use it up. There’s a real business opportunity here: did you know that, as of 4 pm each day, 80% of mom’s don’t know what’s for dinner that night? Suggesting recipes that will be totally consumed will make her life easier!
- Inspire composting (and discount composters)… their garden will thrive because of you! Or help make curbside composting possible like in Boulder, Seattle and San Francisco.
- Be creative… people love to compete! Only 13.5% think that their household wastes more than their average neighbor. Help people understand that they may in fact be wasting way more food and money than their friends, family, and neighbors to motivate them to do something about it.
In the meantime, I will carry on, hopeful that while my daughter learns to clean her plate, an array of giant food companies and grocers will take up the mantle of tackling food waste on a massive scale.
Last week, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was featured in Environmental Finance. The piece centers on results from our work with the private equity sector on environmental initiatives like EDF Climate Corps and our ESG Management Tool. Below are a couple interesting excerpts from the article:
Creating a competitive advantage
When it comes to managing environmental, social and governance issues, the private equity industry is moving from ‘why?’ to ‘how?’, say Tom Murray and Lee Coker
Can you hear it? The private equity (PE) drumbeat for responsible investment is growing louder.
In five years of leading this effort, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has seen the conversation shift fundamentally from why PE firms should care about environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, to how they can leverage ESG management to improve financial performance – while also driving better environmental and social outcomes.
Today, a whopping 92% of fund managers plan to increase their focus on ESG management in the next three to five years, according to research by Malk Sustainability Partners.
And our ongoing conversations with leading firms support the thesis that ESG issues are increasingly becoming top-of-mind, and not just from a theoretical perspective.
Simply put, PE firms are recognizing the importance of ESG assessment and integration throughout the investment process to decrease risk, improve returns and responsibly manage their institutional investors’ money…
Keys to getting started
Another terrific resource for getting started is EDF’s Climate Corps programme, which places specially trained MBA students in companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. It is a powerful way to obtain measurable results for investors, companies and the environment. Since 2008, we have placed 20 Climate Corps fellows at 12 different PE-backed portfolio companies. On average, EDF Climate Corps fellows have found $1 million in savings for their hosts with a total of $1.2 billion in identified savings since the programme began four years ago.
PE sponsors have included Apollo, Carlyle, CD&R, General Atlantic, KKR, Oak Hill Capital Partners and TPG. PE firms have also hosted fellows at the firm level, including CD&R, Carlyle Group’s Real Estate Fund and KKR’s Capstone.
To read the full article, visit Environmental Finance.
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We hit the road April 12 with a series of open conference calls regarding a pressing matter in greening business – truck fleets and logistics in general. We had a fodder-filled discussion on the issue co-hosted by Jason Mathers, who leads Environmental Defense Fund’s work to promote greenhouse gas management in corporate fleets. We talked through two particular sectors of interest for fleets – light-to-medium-duty vehicles and heavy-duty on-road tractor trailer vehicles.
Already having conducted a considerable amount of work in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from light-to-medium-duty fleets, our current challenge is to maintain the momentum EDF has created in this area while shifting our focus to heavy-duty fleets. On the lighter side of fleet vehicles we have found a number of opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases including right-sizing vehicles, but are faced with the challenge that these options do not work for the heavy-duty vehicles which are responsible for 80 percent of emissions from corporate owned-vehicles. Read more
This is a guest post by Ian Bailey, Managing Partner of Capital C Partners, a strategic communications firm.
What do mattress maker Sealy Corp., discount retailer Dollar General and consumer guides publisher PRIMEDIA all have in common? They’re all private equity-owned and have adopted new, environmentally sound business practices delivering millions of dollars in annual savings.
Given the turbulent ride the financial services sector has endured over the past few years it seems counter-intuitive that anyone in the sector would be devoting special attention to environmental matters. The private equity industry has been beset with multiple issues, including constrained access to capital, overleveraged portfolio companies, a paucity of public market exits, the tax treatment of carried interest under scrutiny and growing calls by LPs for greater transparency. So it would seem the industry is a particularly unlikely candidate for embracing new thinking on environmental matters. However, that’s precisely what has happened. Read more
Today is Earth Day, but the idea of living an environmentally-conscious lifestyle doesn’t have to begin and end with what you do today. Even though the media loves Earth Day, today shouldn’t be the only day we think about the environmental impacts of what we do both professionally and personally.
Colin Beavan, aka “No Impact Man,” sets a good example – and provides good resources – for all of us. For those of you familiar with Beavan’s documentary No Impact Man, you know about his attempts cut down his family’s environmental footprint to as close to zero as possible (and if you’re not familiar with the film, you can easily get up to speed: watch the trailer or watch it on Netflix instant streaming). In the film, you see Beavan run through a broad spectrum of environmental experiments from composting to installing solar panels on his roof and everything in between.
The idea of living an environmentally-conscious lifestyle doesn’t have to begin and end with Earth Day. Beavan has lots of ideas for doing this year-round on his frequently-updated No Impact Project site, where you can find a list of iPhone apps that can help you form ‘no impact’ habits (including recycling, carpooling and organic shopping). You can also sign up to receive a “how-to manual” that will send you ideas on how to get through the week by being green, along with other great tips. Read more
Last week, we hosted an intimate lunch at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel to get the perspective of Fortune 500 firms on the future of Corporate-NGO Partnerships.
Our Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, Gwen Ruta, kicked off the lunchtime conversation with an interesting insight: “20 years ago [when we partnered with McDonald’s], it was heresy that an NGO would partner with a company. Nowadays, nearly every large business has an NGO engagement strategy. Could it be that tomorrow’s heresy is that companies share environmental innovations and best practices with each other to solve environmental problems?”
This probing question elicited some really astute ideas from the lunch attendees, and was too rich to include every detail here, but here’s a snapshot of some great comments that emerged on ways that Environmental Defense Fund might scale its impact:
- “The key is to determine which areas of sustainability are truly competitive and which can be shared openly amongst companies. For example, if key green technologies are expensive, it’s to the benefit of all companies to work together to bring down those costs.” Read more
Here’s a business conundrum for you: energy efficiency saves serious money, cuts carbon pollution, requires low tech solutions, and is a known quotient, having been around since the 1970s. So why are so many companies still not taking the necessary steps to identify and eliminate these inefficiencies?
“What we learned in Econ 101 doesn’t hold true when it comes to energy efficiency – the notion of perfect markets, where information flows freely and people are maximizing their value,” notes Environmental Defense Fund’s Gwen Ruta. “Instead, it’s as if companies across the globe are walking around with a hole in their pocket with coins dribbling out nonstop.”
How is it that smart companies who are vigilant about monitoring the bottom line, stock price, customer satisfaction and much more let this wasteful “dribbling” occur? This question launched a robust discussion at a Fortune Brainstorm Green session last week titled “A Trillion Dollar Opportunity: The Hunt for Energy Efficiency.” Gwen Ruta was joined on the panel by Gretchen Hancock, Project Manager for Corporate Environmental Programs at GE; Bill Weihl, Google’s Green Energy Czar and Beth Trask, Deputy Director of EDF’s Innovation Exchange. GE and Google have made huge strides around energy efficiencies in past years, with still more work to do on the horizon and still some barriers of their own to break down.
So what are the main barriers to energy efficiency and how can companies try to overcome them? Read more
This morning, I spoke on a panel called “Driving Innovation Through Sustainability” at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference. Given that the panel was held at the eye-popping hour of 8 AM, it’s testament to the topic that the room was overflowing. Or perhaps the draw was my fellow panelists – Matt Kistler, Senior Vice President of Sustainability for Walmart, Rick Rommel, Senior Vice President for Emerging Business at Best Buy and Scott Elrod, Vice President of the Hardware Systems Laboratory at the Palo Alto Research Center – and our moderator, Roger Ballentine, President of Green Strategies.
Roger started us off by saying that a sustainability agenda can act like a pair of night-vision goggles, helping corporate managers and executives find innovation where they couldn’t see it before. That certainly resonated with me – I’ve seen that pattern over and over again in the companies with which we work. In fact, I’m often asked of our partners, “Why did they need you to find an innovation that’s clearly good for their business?” I think it’s because in many ways Environmental Defense Fund provides those night-vision goggles Roger was talking about, bringing a new green lens to business as usual. Read more