Sodexo CEO Michel Landel: Why Ending Food Waste Concerns Us All

"At Sodexo, we continue to raise awareness around global food waste," said Landel.

Vegetables pulled out from waste bins of an organic supermarket. / REUTERS

Michel Landel

Across the globe, more than one-third of food that is grown and produced for human consumption ends up lost or wasted. In the U.S., where one in five children face the risk of going hungry, food waste represents the third-largest category of waste in landfills. The country spends $218 billion to grow, process, transport and dispose of food that is never eaten. While impactful, these numbers don’t even address the social impact of food waste, a facet that is difficult to quantify and therefore often overlooked.

At Sodexo (No. 6 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) we continue to raise awareness around global food waste – notably through Sodexo’s participation with the Champions 12.3 coalition. So named for the group’s dedication to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, the target is to cut food waste in half at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest, by 2030.

Food waste reduction is a particularly important issue because it speaks to so many facets of Sodexo’s mission: to improve the quality of life of our employees and all whom we serve and to contribute to the economic, social and environmental development of the communities, regions and countries in which we operate. Our efforts here have already been recognized and – for the 12th consecutive year the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) named Sodexo as the top sustainable development company in its industry.

Working together to reduce food waste

One way we are working to decrease food waste is through partnerships. In line with our global efforts, in the U.S. we made a commitment to the Zero Food Waste to Landfills initiative. We are also implementing our own initiative called WasteWatch, a comprehensive program to prevent and reduce food waste. In 2014, we piloted it at 75 U.S. campuses and achieved an average reduction of 48.5 percent in pre-consumer food waste.

At the production and supply chain level, whenever and wherever possible, Sodexo strives to form relationships with local farmers, growers and suppliers to provide closely sourced produce for our sites. These relationships remind us that addressing food waste not only helps protect the environment, it is also an important step in valuing the labor involved in planting, harvesting and all the way to preparing and serving the food on our plates.

As a service company with quality of life at its heart, Sodexo is in a unique position to look at the social impacts of the food waste crisis. The International Food Waste Coalition SKOOL program we recently deployed in schools in Italy, France and the UK was a compelling reminder of how integral food is to our culture and traditions. This effective food waste management program, developed by the IFWC in collaboration with Food Agriculture Organization, saved 2.5 tons of food waste—that’s more than 4,500 meals.

Each school implemented practices in line with how their own culture sees food and the social aspects of eating and enjoying a meal. In the recent Roadmap to Reduce FoodWaste, a baseline study conducted by ReFed, an organization dedicated to ending food waste, Sodexo looked at behavioral changes that can reduce waste. Serving appropriate portions is one example; another is cooking food to order toward the end of the meal service instead of keeping displays filled to the brim with food that will be thrown away at closing time.

A tailored approach

At the consumer level, Sodexo teams are given flexibility to come up with customized solutions for each client. In France, our senior-care team came up with an initiative that considers and values the labor that goes into food preparation as well as the cultural importance of taking the time to truly enjoy a meal. While blended food is often essential for people who have lost the ability to chew and swallow, it can take the joy out of eating and lead to greater food waste. To address this, our new approach, Mix Less, Eat Better, aims to bring enjoyment back to mealtimes. We believe this program will have an impact on quality of life not just for senior-care residents and their families, but also for our staff who will know that their food preparation efforts are valued. And we believe that the program’s benefits will increase, as more palatable food holds great value and is less likely to go to waste.

I encourage everyone reading this to think about the value of sitting down and enjoying a meal with family and friends, as well as the difference they can make by reducing food waste. Remember that food that’s thrown out can never feed anyone, and it adds to our collective financial and environmental burden.

For corporations, collaboration along the entire value chain is key to reducing food waste. This is what Sodexo strives for because we recognize that our goals of positively impacting local communities and the quality of life of everyone with whom we interact cannot be achieved without understanding and collaboration.

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