March 2016’s NWSBQ: Tackling food waste

nwsbq stuart noakesZero domestic food waste – it’s possible. The clear, punchy opening given by Dr Wayne Martindale of Sheffield Business School, and the sort of sky’s-the-limit thinking ideal for beginning an evening of ‘tackling food waste’. This event was this quarter’s edition of the North West Sustainable Business Quarterly, a sustainability networking event held in Manchester, UK.

Stuart Noakes of The Co-operative Group spoke alongside Wayne, each giving their views on the problem of food waste, and going some way to identifying the solutions of today, and tomorrow.

Food waste is by no means a new sustainability issue but, of late, it’s certainly one receiving the media attention it deserves. Wayne discussed the role of the domestic kitchen, and how the way we design them can better build in ways to reduce waste. He also touched on how the more food is moved about, the more wastage occurs through supply chain transportation and storage inefficiencies. Wayne then tackled the role of the consumer in reducing food waste – and that it is having to meet the sometimes unsustainable consumer needs and wants that can lead to edible food never reaching human mouths; there is a key role for brands in engaging consumers around their food choices and driving positive change. Wayne also considered the role of freezing foods. Of course, whilst freezing foods enhances longevity – meaning 47% less frozen food gets wasted than fresh because we have time to use it before it perishes –­ this comes at the price of a higher carbon footprint. But simply put, no frozen food would mean an additional 5.5 million tonnes of food waste by consumers, so it’s probably worth keeping hold of your freezer…

Please see: Wayne Martindale’s prezie here

Stuart then gave us a tour of The Cooperative Group’s approach to food waste – their ultimate waste goal being that no calorie in their hands is not consumed. He tackled the issue that has been painted in the press – that retail are the “big bad giants of food waste”. But he put this into perspective too: those “big bad” retailers are only a small part of the overall problem. It’s us consumers that contribute to the significant swathes of food waste that go on once the food leaves the store. He outlined the challenge retailers, including Co-op, face – consumers are the ones who dictate what is deemed ‘acceptable’, and the issue is that if you go further in your quest for food waste reduction/animal welfare (etc.) than the consumers have asked for, and especially if you’re the only retailer to do so, then it’s not good for business. It’s collaborative incremental changes across the retail sector that mean everyone’s a winner. For any retailer, it’s a careful balance of profit versus doing the right thing. And the collaboration must go further than just with the retailers; we need to be educating consumers about the choices they make and pushing harder for the right legislation.

Please see: Stuart Noakes’ presentation here

The Q&A which followed covered a breadth of topics – from infamous “ugly” veg to the demise of multibuy deals, and from foods of the future (GM and insects, anyone?) to the role of punishment and reward in encouraging desired consumer behaviours.

Roundtables covered a range of bases too: is food just too cheap? Where are the priorities in terms of reducing waste from farm to fork? How does voluntary regulation versus statutory targets? Is business collaboration or competition the way? And, more widely, how can we rethink consumption?

Our sincere thanks to our speakers, to Bruntwood for providing our venue, to GoodMoodFood for the buffet, and also to Green Earth Appeal for pledging to plant a tree for every event attendee – see the certificate here – North West Sustainable Business Quarterly NWSBQ – Certificate

The North West Sustainable Business Quarterly is held in Manchester every March, June, September and December. Join us – please email

This entry was posted in Event write-up. Bookmark the permalink.