Earlier this year ReFED partnered with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to launch the first-ever Climate Corps® Food Waste Fellowship, an exciting opportunity for organizations and leading food businesses to have a dedicated custom-matched graduate student help advance their food waste reduction and climate goals. This partnership represents the first of its kind collaboration between an established, international fellowship program, and an organization with deep food and corporate relationships expertise. In its inaugural year, ten companies took part in this unique opportunity to host a food waste fellow and receive support from EDF and ReFED including Albertsons, Amy’s Kitchen, Aramark, Cava, Conagra, The J.M. Smucker Co, Lane County, New York City Housing Authority, Sodexo, and United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI).
The fellows led the way on important and challenging food waste initiatives, coming up with goals, solutions, and potential impacts for each. Below are success stories from the 2022 cohort's projects. To learn more about other EDF Climate Corps projects, please visit: http://edfclimatecorps.org/projects/results .
Adrienne Gembala identified solutions and processes that reduce food waste to landfill by optimizing the store level food donation programs.
Albertsons Companies, Inc., the second-largest supermarket chain in North America with 2,273 stores throughout the United States, enlisted EDF Climate Corps Fellow Adrienne Gembala to identify solutions and processes that reduce food waste to landfill. Albertsons' Recipe for Change outlines their ESG goals of zero food waste to landfill and enables one billion meals for our neighbors in need by 2030. To meet both, Adrienne focused on optimizing the stores' food donation programs.
Adrienne approached this challenge using a three-part process:
- Stakeholder Engagement: Through a combination of in-store visits and associate interviews, Adrienne learned how food that is approaching best by dates, has damaged packaging, or otherwise cannot be sold at normal price is handled. She learned that scan guns were used to classify items to be donated.
- Data Analysis: Adrienne analyzed the scan gun data of all divisions to find those with the highest and lowest numbers and visited the highest performing division to see what was working and where they could still improve.
- Recommendations: Adrienne determined that the food rescue process varies significantly across the company, so an updated universal model needs to be adopted.
Once a universal process is implemented and maintained, an increase in food donations would create the following benefits for Albertsons and the communities they serve:
- Gets food to those who need it most in the local communities and supports Albertsons's goal of one billion meals for our neighbors in need by 2030
- Reduces waste hauling expenses and supports Albertsons's goal of zero food waste to landfill by 2030
- Increases tax deduction benefits
- Reduces our carbon footprint by reducing methane emissions from landfills
Amy’s Kitchen - Coming soon!
Brooke Seegan identified strategies to measure and reduce post-consumer food waste at Aramark.
Aramark is looking to reduce their food waste by 50% by the year 2030. Post-consumer food waste is challenging to measure and can make up a significant portion of food waste generated in the food service industry. Aramark enlisted Brooke Seegan as their first EDF Climate Corps fellow to get a complete picture of post-consumer food waste in the company’s operations.
Seegan approached the problem in two parts:
- Measuring the impacts of post-consumer food waste to show its scope. After reviewing available methodologies of measuring volume and impact of post-consumer waste, Seegan estimated the financial value of plate waste on the enterprise level. Seegan also calculated the environmental impact of plate waste at over 250 college residential dining facilities.
- Recommendations for future measurements and reduction strategies. Seegan presented operational improvements to align with leading protocols and improve future baseline measurements. After speaking with several operators in different lines of business, she trained operators on main causes of food waste and best practices for waste minimization.
Using Seegan’s proposed mix of reduction strategies and educational campaigns, Aramark should be able to reduce post-consumer food waste in their operations. This has further co-benefits including emissions reductions, food procurement savings, and better positions them to achieve their 50% food waste reduction goal. Seegan’s project also helped Aramark revitalize internal conversations regarding food waste reductions across the company. This work was key in supporting the development of the next generation food waste strategy including updates to training materials and internal resources as well as food donation programming and sampling techniques.
Jonathon Winder conducted a food waste and GHG emissions diagnostic and crafted a strategic roadmap for achieving 50% reductions by 2030.
CAVA engaged EDF’s Climate Corps fellowship program and ReFED to support the company in activating its commitment to assessing and reducing both food waste and greenhouse gas emissions throughout its value chain. It onboarded its first Climate Corps Fellow, Jonathan Winder, to spearhead this organizational drive during the summer of 2022.
Winder approached the project through four processes:
- Interviewed employees to understand the company dynamics and gather ideas for best practices/solutions.
- Food waste audits: Conducted waste audits across 7 restaurants in 4 states from trash thrown out by restaurant employees and customers to establish a baseline of CAVA’s waste stream.
- Carbon accounting: Used two greenhouse gas emissions calculators (the EPA Simplified GHG Emissions Calculator) and the Quantis Scope 3 Evaluator for Scopes 1, 2, and 3. This high-level “screen” provided a baseline to determine the hot spots of the largest GHG emissions to inform strategic decision-making.
- Strategic recommendations: Crafted a number of short, medium, and long-term strategic recommendations to reduce food waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
- The conversation will continue to change around sustainability, and employees will see both the need for and the benefit of reducing both food waste and GHG emissions.
- The company will adopt a number of the recommendations and quickly begin to see substantive savings as well as lower food waste and GHG emissions.
- The company will get drive advocacy for food waste and GHG reductions practices both internally with employees and externally, as a brand known for its sustainable as well as delicious food.
Conagra has spent many hours considering the upcycling potential within their supply chain. Those hours had been spent considering which ingredients, technology, or brand had the best prospective impact but through Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps fellowship, Madeline Bowers decided to flip that thinking.
- While the project goal was to ‘assess the business case for upcycling food waste’, Madeline spent time building bridges between functional groups in order to integrate the financial and technological opportunities already present in the market. She focused on the available data to identify which waste stream provided the most absolute volume.
- Through this endeavor she also identified the gaps in data collection and integrity – an improvement that would make future upcycling projects more easily quantifiable. After completing a landscape analysis of the potential partners, Madeline identified multiple existing ventures in the right space and presented viable options to key decision makers.
As this fellowship ends, the immediate impact of our project brings the upcycling initiative one step closer to a “why not?” decision. Now that an external partner has been identified and the scale of simple revenue has been communicated, the long-term possibilities of this Climate Corps Fellowship are as numerous as the options for upcycling food waste.
The J.M. Smucker Co.
Erin Seglem proposed a framework and steps The J.M. Smucker Co. should follow to identify, measure and address food loss & waste across a product’s value chain.
The J.M. Smucker Co. (Smucker) has taken ambitious steps to address food loss & waste in specific areas within their organization. However, to further explore how food loss & waste could support their emissions and waste reduction goals, Smucker enlisted Erin Seglem to review peer and retail customer food loss & waste activities, assess current pain points within Smucker’s operations and provide data and stakeholder-informed recommendations for next steps that Smucker should take to address food loss & waste within their owned manufacturing and distribution sites and up and down the value chain.
Erin took the following steps to tackle these objectives:
Created a benchmark of food loss & waste activities of 5 peers and 10 retail customers: Researched publicly available customer and peer data regarding food loss & waste activities and identified leaders and laggards based on public target-setting, collaborative engagement with suppliers and customers, and implementation of food loss & waste-specific activities.
Interviewed stakeholders & analyzed production and distribution/warehousing data: Spoke with internal and external stakeholders to understand current handling processes for production waste and product nearing stop ship dates. In addition, modeled and estimated food loss volumes and potential GHG emissions associated with increased volumes of production.
Recommended next steps: Proposed next steps for Smucker to follow in order to begin addressing food loss & waste within their operations along with a framework for how to prioritize food loss & waste activities within their owned production and distribution sites before moving to explore food loss & waste up and down their value chain.
As a result of Erin’s work, Smucker has clear next steps to expand food loss & waste reduction activities into their operations. These next steps include measuring food loss within production sites, engaging site staff in addressing and preventing food loss during production, improving the process for handling product nearing stop ship dates to keep it out of the landfill, and increase the volume of food donated for human consumption.
Alex Rehbinder identified innovative food waste solutions by mapping the food system and engaging food waste generators in Lane County, Oregon.
Reducing food waste is a top priority for Lane County, as one-in-five residents are currently food insecure, food waste is a top emitter of GHG emissions, and food represents the largest portion of waste that enters landfill. Lane County enlisted Alex Rehbinder to map the entirety of the County’s food system and to identify food waste solutions that address the growing environmental, social, and economic impacts of non-recovered food waste.
Alex Rehbinder addressed the challenge using a three-pronged approach:
- Map the flow of food in Lane County, to provide a more comprehensive picture of food and food waste, and to understand barriers to food waste prevention and recovery.
- Inventory and survey the County’s food establishments. Rehbinder led critical groundwork that collected data from local food establishments of food produced and food wasted (landfilled). The data collected will be used to establish a database that will be used to develop a dynamic geographic information system (GIS) map and communication platform that connects producers and redistribution partners in Lane County’s food system.
- Engage a wide range of the Lane County food system stakeholders to identify infrastructure gaps and needs.
By creating the first directory of Lane County's food establishments and mapping the overall food system, an engagement and survey campaign reached 1,993 food establishments to reduce the 45,987 tons of landfilled food and organics entering the waste stream manually. As a result, Lane County Waste Management has a path forward to connect the county’s food establishments with food recovery organizations. The engagement survey was also helpful in identifying specific resources and areas where Lane County can better support and engage food producers and food recovery partners.
Abby Brown concluded that micro-AD has the potential to reduce pests, odor, and the cost of waste removal at NYCHA.
With NYCHA residents accounting for 1 in 15 New Yorkers, estimates show that roughly 500,000 pounds of organic waste is produced daily at NYCHA developments. NYCHA is exploring different options for on-site processing of organic waste including expanding 3-bin composting, in-vessel composting and biodigesters, and micro anaerobic digestion (micro AD). NYCHA enlisted Abby Brown to research the feasibility of micro-AD for on-site organics processing due to its added benefits of providing renewable energy alongside nutrient-rich plant food.
Brown spearheaded the volume and cost calculations and the permitting review:
- Input-Output Calculator: Abby created this tool to calculate the volumes of micro-AD system inputs and outputs, evaluate desired end-use cases for the biogas, and to compare storage and throguhput capacities to the unit capabilities.
- Cost Calculator: Abby created a cost calculator that will grow with the project. It calculates both capital and annual costs of installing and operating a micro-AD at a NYCHA campus.
- Permitting Evaluation: Abby spoke with stakeholders at NYDSEC, DOB, FDNY, DEP, and DSNY to evaluate the permitting landscape for micro-AD. Particularly in NYC, this is an uncharted landscape.
Abby developed a case study along with tools to help NYCHA structure planning around a possible Micro-AD implementation, including site selection, evaluation of end-use cases for biogas and digestate, and calculators to estimate material input and output volumes. The fellow leaves NYCHA with guidance on the financial, operational, and regulatory requirements to implement this system.
Jed Higdon concluded that micro-AD has the potential to reduce pests, odor, and the cost of waste removal at NYCHA.
With NYCHA residents accounting for 1 in 15 New Yorkers, estimates show that roughly 500,000 pounds of organic waste is produced daily at NYCHA developments. NYCHA is exploring different options for on-site processing of organic waste including expanding 3-bin composting, in-vessel composting and biodigesters, and micro anaerobic digestion (micro AD). NYCHA enlisted Jed Higdon to research the feasibility of micro-AD for on-site organics processing due to its added benefits of providing renewable energy alongside nutrient-rich plant food.
Jed focused his efforts on three key areas:
- Select a site that is suitable for micro-AD among NYCHA’s >300 developments based on potential input sources, output destinations, and adjacent infrastructure. Jed created a series of map tools using GIS that can be filtered based on relevant criteria to identify suitable sites.
- Identify the best use cases for biogas, the renewable energy produced through anaerobic digestion. Jed explored options for burning the gas directly in addition to converting the gas to electricity, and providing amenities such as e-bike charging, using energy calculations from other digesters.
- Engage with stakeholders both internal and external to NYCHA to generate interest and feedback from relevant parties across New York. These conversations will inform future decision making around micro-AD at NYCHA.
Jed developed a case study along with tools to help NYCHA structure planning around a possible Micro-AD implementation, including site selection, evaluation of end-use cases for biogas and digestate, and calculators to estimate material input and output volumes. The fellow leaves NYCHA with guidance on the financial, operational, and regulatory requirements to implement this system.
Brian Meko spearheaded the creation of Sodexo’s food recovery & donation toolkit to help Sodexo staff to safely and effectively recover and donate potentially wasted food.
As a best-in-class operator seeking to become more sustainable, Sodexo North American (NorAM) was challenged with increasing social impact while reducing wasted food from over 4000+ sites. Tasked with devising tools to aid frontline workers, Sodexo’s Corporate Responsibility team enlisted Joseph (Brian) Meko to create an up-to-date, general use guide for Sodexo site operators to successfully, safely, and efficiently donate recovered food that would otherwise be wasted.
Meko approached the creation of the toolkit using a multi-step process:
- Identification of past efforts and project objectives for food recovery and donation. After reviewing the previous food recovery toolkit, the recently completed food recovery & donation pilot, and holding key stakeholder interviews, Meko identified the need for a more thorough overview of food recovery & donation including linking the “why” to the “how” to better engage operators.
- Comprehensive information for present circumstances and future needs for front line implementation. Due to the variety of clients and types of sites Sodexo manages, the created toolkit focused on a generalized approach hitting on key considerations that all Sodexo’s operators would need to be aware of. He compiled and streamlined relevant information on food waste, benefits of food recovery & donation (social, environmental, business), food safety, liability restrictions, partnership establishment, data collection, and communication best practices.
- Collaborative production with varied stakeholder points of views. Adding his perspective as someone who had previously working in supporting food pantries, Meko closely produced the toolkit with members of the Corporate Social Responsibility Team, Former Front Line staff members, STOP Hunger Foundation (Sodexo’s foundation focused on hunger), and key stakeholders from food safety, legal, IT, etc.
Utilizing the comprehensive toolkit as a guide, donation of overproduced or potentially wasted food could be reduced up to 50% by each individual site if implemented. Furthermore, embedding food recovery and donation into standard operating procedures and data collection may lead to increased partnerships with community food banks and food advocacy organizations increasing the social impact of Sodexo NorAM as a whole.
As a result, Sodexo could move more consistently to their Better Tomorrow 2025 strategic corporate responsibility goals of reducing food waste by 50%, reducing carbon emissions by 34%, and acting sustainably for a hunger-free world.
United Natural Foods (UNFI)
UNFI’s leadership and executive teams now have real-time food waste and ESG information previously not available.
As the first-ever EDF fellow at UNFI, Fredrick was tasked to create real-time dashboards that track progress towards UNFI’s waste reduction goals: zero waste to landfill from distribution center operations by 2030, and a 50% reduction in distribution center food waste by 2025. These data dashboards and reports are essential to providing senior leadership and key stakeholders with the insights needed to shape food waste strategies, change behaviors, and achieve these ambitious goals.
Fredrick worked closely with the Financial Planning and Analysis team and Facilities, Energy, and Environment team, to convert tens of thousands of rows of Excel data into easy-to-understand visualizations using Microsoft’s Power BI. As a project manager and data analyst, he helped identify missing data and uncovered opportunities for greater efficiencies.
Through various subject matter experts and vendors, Fredrick learned about the unique operational food waste challenges that UNFI faces as a national food distributor and was able to understand the problems complexities throughout the supply chain in a 360-degree perspective, allowing for better information to design and display the data that is collected.
The systems that Fredrick assisted with and helped to implement will save hours of work each subsequent reporting cycle for various stakeholders, including the Financial Planning and Analysis team, the Facilities, Energy, and Environment team, and the Sustainability team.
Through his dedicated efforts and advocacy, Fredrick has helped elevate the transparency of food waste and ESG data across the organization, exposing real-time insights previously hidden in unprocessed datasets. He identified areas of missing data and informed stakeholders where the operations and business practices are inconsistent or lack formality, leading to the potential for greater food waste.
It was amazing to see the success of the inaugural year of the program, and we can't wait to see what this initiative brings in the years to come.