Sustainability and resilience go hand in hand

Food waste is a major barrier to reducing carbon emissions around the world. As much as a third of food produced globally is wasted and the bulk of the waste occurs along the global supply chain. In the UK, an estimated 10.2 million tonnes of food and drink are thrown away annually. The farming, production and transportation of such wasted products adds billions of tonnes of unnecessary carbon into the atmosphere every year.

When the coronavirus crisis forced consumers into lockdown and restaurants to close, the decimation of supply chains amplified sustainability issues even further, with unprecedented volumes of produce going to waste, including eggs, milk and onions. Already a problem before the pandemic, the dumping of food became endemic in itself.

US farmers dumped 14 million litres of milk every day during lockdown due to disrupted supply chains, according to Dairy Farmers of America, while a single chicken processor was reported to be destroying 750,000 unhatched eggs a week. The collapse of excess food prices meant the US Food and Agriculture Organization Food Price Index dropped in four consecutive months.

“It’s not just the waste in growing and transporting food, but as the food decays it’s even releasing its own greenhouse gases, which kills the ozone,” says Peter Evans, chief executive at sustainability technology company Orderly. “You think food waste is bad, but then you hear things like that and realise it just gets worse. Reducing food waste in the supply chain is something that can and should happen right now. There’s no reason to start later or wait for a second wave to disrupt supply chains again. It must happen now.”

Sustainability is not just crucial from an environmental responsibility standpoint, but also as a direct driver of business resilience, which organisations have needed in spades during the pandemic. By reducing waste, food and beverage companies spend less money, increasing profitability and cash reserves. Those who take a risk-based approach to sustainability can identify and manage supply chain disruptions much more efficiently.

Technology is a vital tool for influencing responsibility, as Orderly has demonstrated to strong effect during the pandemic. The company offers organisations a scorecard generated by artificial intelligence (AI) to help change human behaviour. By interfacing with a number of data sources, the weekly scorecard gives each user three things they are doing well to increase sustainability, two things they can improve upon and one score out of five.

Users can track their scores over time and benchmark progress against peers in their own organisation, while companies can also review overall progress and benchmark against their competitors. The recommendations are updated as the AI system learns if previous advice was followed and how easy the tips were to adopt.

Orderly has also worked with large chains, including Morrisons, to implement ecommerce solutions that support direct-to-consumer offerings. Supermarkets struggling to provide enough delivery slots was a well-document issue during lockdown, which meant more food being wasted in warehouses. Within six days, Orderly deployed a direct-to-consumer offering, with an ecommerce front-end and “pick and pack” direct from the warehouse using a third party for delivery. It was later expanded to provide priority slots for the vulnerable and NHS workers.

“When we heard about the proposition to support NHS staff and Morrisons’ customers that might have been struggling due to shift times and supermarket shortages, we were really eager to help get them the goods they needed and to reduce potential waste in the supply chain,” says Evans. “Meanwhile, using technology to influence responsibility and change people’s behaviour is the best way to embed sustainability inside organisations, which in turn drives resilience. With the right data flows in place, companies can make better decisions and much faster.

Reducing food waste in the supply chain is something that can and should happen right now

“If each person in the supply chain does something small to contribute to mitigating against waste in some way or another, we can make a difference. To do this, companies need to surface the right data to the right people at the right time, using these better-connected data sources to track wastage and conduct modelling around what-if scenarios. That way, everyone can be singing from the same hymn sheet and working towards the same goals of reducing waste and increasing profit, which go hand in hand.”

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