Sep 16, 2011 • By

An important call to action

Earlier this week, I attended the 2011 Sustainability Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., presented by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), working together as the Trading Partner Alliance (TPA).

This second-annual summit served as a collaborative gathering ground for more than 350 food manufacturers, retailers, government and advocacy groups working toward the common goal of advancing environmentally and socially responsible business practices.

For those of us in the food industry, the Sustainability Summit is our forum to learn from one another, share tools and collaborate on solutions that will make our industry more sustainable from farm to fork.

My colleague, Bob Branham – director of customer sustainability at General Mills and co-chair of the 2011 Sustainability Summit – summed up the vision for the event in his welcoming remarks.

“This summit will arm suppliers, retailers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government and service providers with the content and contacts needed to help accelerate sustainability in such a way that moves our whole industry forward, faster,” Bob said.

At General Mills, we’re working hard to integrate sustainability strategies into our products, processes and operations. When we join forces with our peer companies and retail partners, we gain speed, scale and efficiencies that we might not be able to achieve independently.

As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It was powerful to see a diverse range of stakeholders come together at the 2011 summit to discuss holistic solutions to the challenges facing our industry.

This year’s program featured more than 80 speakers on topics ranging from water stewardship to sustainable packaging to how to build collaborative partnerships between industry and NGOs.

One topic that received significant focus and attention at this year’s summit is food waste mitigation and landfill avoidance.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we generate more than 34 million tons of food waste in this country every year. That translates to 67 billion pounds of food.

This number has significant consequences for all three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental and economic.

Consider that more than 49 million people in America are food insecure. That means that one in four children live with food insecurity. And with the economic downturn, more and more families are relying on food banks as their primary means to put food on the table.

The amount of food going to landfills also creates stress on the environment. Landfills are the second largest source of methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Our industry is heeding these staggering statistics as a call to action.

GMA, FMI and the National Restaurant Association are partnering on a three-year Food Waste Opportunities and Challenges Initiative to address food waste in America. The goal of this cross-industry team is to identify strategies to reduce waste while increasing food donations to feed the hungry. Bob Branham, mentioned above, co-chairs this initiative.

Whether it’s a retailer working to capture fresh produce at day’s end and redistribute to a food bank, or a manufacturer donating surplus ingredients or overruns of product in seasonally-themed packaging, the food industry is working collectively to drive down food waste in this country.

We will continue to use this blog as a forum to share the progress and good work of this important industry group.

The Sustainability Summit is the aperture for developing the next generation of sustainable solutions, whether the challenge is food waste, sustainable agriculture, socially responsible supply chains or more.

In this video from the conference, Bob Branham talks about how sustainability is now clearly a greater focus for many companies.