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Tesco to accelerate food waste reduction by five years

© ShutterstockTesco sign

Tesco (LSE:TSCO ) has announced it will bring its work on cutting food waste forward to 2025 and called on government to address food waste.

  •  Tesco is accelerating its commitment to UN SDG target 12.3 on halving food waste from 2030 to 2025.
  • Food waste increases both carbon and water footprints and is an environmental disaster in the making.
  • Aligning executive pay with sustainability performance, as Tesco is to do, could become the next credibility test for sustainable strategy.

British retailer Tesco has unveiled plans to halve food waste in its own operations by 2025 – five years ahead of the timeline outlined by the United Nations under the Sustainable Development Goals.

The group is part of Champions 12.3, a coalition already committed to achieving SDG target 12.3 by 2030. Tesco has announced two key steps in achieving that accelerated goal of halving food waste by 2025: the alignment of executive pay with sustainability performance, and calling on government for the introduction of food waste reporting.

This means that 25% of the performance share that executive directors receive will depend on the company’s performance on core sustainability measures (including gender and ethnicity representation, carbon reduction, and food waste reduction)  in its own operations. This is considered a key step in sustainable transformation – and one that many corporates have yet to implement.

Why food waste matters

Tesco group chief executive Ken Murphy said: “Food waste is not only an environmental crisis in the making – accounting for 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also an urgent humanitarian concern. In the UK, food poverty is reaching unprecedented levels as the cost-of-living crisis continues, with 7 million people now struggling to afford to eat. This status quo is difficult to comprehend.”

According to WWF research, over 2.5 billion tonnes of food are thrown away globally each year. This is not only important in terms of the immediate resources wasted, but also in terms of the water consumed in creating such food in the first place.

Every piece of food has its own water footprint and JFAO research shows the amount of water wasted from uneaten food is three times the volume of Lake Geneva. With Europe suffering unprecedented drought and where water scarcity is a growing concern, that cannot be allowed.

Tesco’s steps in tackling food waste

To date, the Tesco group has reduced overall food waste by 45% since 2016/17. According to group chief executive Ken Murphy, just 0.35% of food handled last year ended up as waste.” The group redistributes surplus food to charities, community groups and colleagues, while converting non-edible produce into pet, animal feed or energy.

Murphy says that Tesco’s provides an average of two million meals a month to charities and community groups via Community Food Connection in the UK in conjunction with FareShare and FoodCloud.  It has also partnered with food sharing app OLIO, a community food sharing app, and seen over 18 million meals since 2019.

Importance of the supply chain

Supermarkets cannot solve food waste issues without collaboration. The supply chain is a critical part of the equations and Tesco reports that 107 of its largest global suppliers now report their food loss annually using the Target, Measure, Act framework – 28 more than last year. Collectively that has resulted in a reduction of food waste loss and waste by 122,000 tonnes.

One such supplier is BROP, a Central European produce supplier, which has been encouraged to maximise its fresh produce. This includes selling their ‘wonky’ vegetables to customers at lower prices through Tesco’s ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ range and creating a new line of ‘baby potatoes’ to help use up smaller potatoes that are often left in the fields after harvest.

This is turn helps raised consumer awareness of food waste, which Tesco is promoting through its ‘Use Up Day’ campaign. This is focused on providing customers with the tips and inspiration, to use up the food they already have at home to create a tasty meal. Tesco says that this weekly intervention can help to save an average family, approximately £260 a year.

More than single company action is needed to address food waste

While it is encouraging to see Tesco accelerating its own targets, and linking executive pay to sustainability performance, policy frameworks are going to be the most effective ways to move the levers on wider industry change.

As Murphy say: “We have long called for the Government to introduce mandatory food waste reporting. Without measuring the problem, you can’t hope to manage it. Without publication, we will never be able to judge whether real change is happening.”

Whether the government chooses to act is another question, but when corporates lobbying for frameworks to supporting a sustainable business transformation that is already changing the operational environment for food and drink companies around the world, they might just listen.

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