New food waste reporting standard in the pipeline

Stakeholders in Singapore's food industry are invited to be a part of the worldwide effort to develop a new global standard for accounting and reporting food loss and waste.

Sustainability leaders worldwide are drafting a new standard for quantifying food loss and waste, and have invited Singapore companies in all stages of the food supply chain to be a part of the process.

The World Resources Institute (WRI), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other global organisations have been working on a Food Loss & Waste (FLW) Protocol Accounting and Reporting Standard since October 2013, and recently made draft copies available for feedback from stakeholders in the food sector including companies, non-profits and governments.

At an information session held on Monday, the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) Singapore introduced the protocol to industry and government representatives in the city-state and invited them to help strengthen the protocol by providing feedback.

Businesses can also opt to participate in a pilot programme to test the protocol in their operations and report back on whether they find the process useful and cost-effective. 

This information will feed into the final draft of the FLW protocol, which will be launched at the United Nations General Assembly this September. 

Constant van Aerschot, executive diirector, BCSD, noted that despite the widely-cited statistic from UNEP that a third of all food grown for human consumption is wasted, estimates vary greatly depending on calculation methods used by different countries.

“We need to find a way to agree on how to calculate and report food loss and waste,” he said. “That is why you need a protocol.”

In the same way that the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, developed by WRI and WBCSD, has become the most widely used international accounting standard for their greenhouse gas emissions, the FLW Protocol would hopefully offer a uniform, consistent, and transparent way for companies and governments to quantify food loss and waste, added van Aerschot.

The fact that 32 per cent of all food grown for human consumption is wasted has serious economic and environmental impacts.

According to estimates by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), food loss costs the global economy US$750 billion per year in losses, and a quarter of all water used by agriculture goes to waste. 

Jenny Costelloe, founder of sustainability consultancy Skylark Advisory, said that there is a “moral imperative” to avoid food waste, especially in the face of global hunger and food insecurity. 

“There is a need for a better understanding of where and why food loss is occurring so that we can address it in a more systematic and rigorous way,” she added. 

Flexible yet standardised reporting

The protocol, a 200-page document divided into 15 chapters, clearly explains what counts as ‘food’, ‘loss’, and ‘waste’, and instructs users on how to define the scale and methodology of their own reporting exercises, how to collect and analyse data, and present the findings on the quantity of food loss and waste they calculate. 

The voluntary protocol also allows companies to decide on the segment of operations they want to report on, and how they want to quantify food loss and waste, as long as these parameters are clearly indicated.

While companies can establish the reporting scope and quantification method according to what is most relevant to their goals, the procedures they follow for gathering and analysing the data, as well as calculating the results of a company’s food loss and waste investory, must follow what is indicated in the document.

The protocol also guides companies on a suitable structure to report their findings, and how to set and track targets to reduce food loss and waste if they wish to do so.

Organisations can also choose to measure food loss and waste in different ways, such as measuring weight, volume, or counting units of food or calories, among others. This allows each organisation to apply the protocol in a way that is most relevant to their business, explained van Aerschot. 

We need to find a way to agree on how to calculate and report food loss and waste. That is why you need a protocol.

Constant van Aerschot, executive director, Business Council for Sustainable Development Singapore

WRI serves as the secretariat leading the process for drafting and reviewing the protocol, while experts from various food and sustainability organisations make up the steering committee for the project, which is funded by the Danish International Development Agency and Global Green Growth Forum. 

Feedback exercises similar to the one initiated by BCSD in Singapore are taking place all over the world, a process which van Aerschot said lends credibility to the protocol in the eyes of international governments. 

The launch of the final protocol draft at the United Nations General Assembly in September will be closely followed by the UN’s Special Summit to finalise and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of targets that will guide development efforts for the next fifteen years. 

Halving global food waste by 2030 is among the objectives listed in the 17 goals and their numerous sub-goals. “I am pretty sure it will be there” in the final draft, said van Aerschot. 

Those who choose to become external reviewers must submit feedback by mid-May, while pilot testers can report back on their experience by mid-June.

Better accounting for speedier implementation

One company that attended the briefing, and would be eligible to sign up as a pilot is French food services and facilities management firm Sodexo. Mia Lindsey, the company’s environmental technical director for Africa, parts of Asia and Australia, told Eco-Business that the FLW Protocol aligns well with an ongoing Sodexo food waste reduction effort called WasteWatch.

Implementing the protocol in the company would therefore not be the biggest challenge, she said. Rather, the tougher task would be “taking and using this information for the next step: achieving waste reduction”.

Some pilot testers could potentially be featured as case studies in the final standard as well, shared van Aerschot.

Interested reviewers or pilot testers can write to BCSD Singapore, who will consolidate feedback before passing it on to WRI, or communicate directly with WRI, he said. 

Once finalised, the protocol should be widely adopted by Singaporean companies, who also have a large presence in Asia, van Aerschot told Eco-Business.

Noting that food security is a very important topic for Southeast Asia, he said that “if the industry does not move fast enough” to adhere to this voluntary standard, then “it should expect some sort of mandatory measures” from governments which are increasingly concerned about food security issues. 

In Singapore, where food waste accounts for a tenth of the total waste generated, the National Environment Agency announced earlier this month that it would develop guidelines for the proper handling and re-distribution of unsold and excess food. 

It would also initiate pilots to test the economic viability of food waste segregation and recycling in hawker centres and at the district level in Singapore’s Clementi neighbourhood. 

Costelloe noted that because the protocol offered a standard way of quantifying food loss and waste, it would spur them to compare data with their competitors.

This would encourage the widespread adoption of these reporting standards across the food sector, said Costello, noting that “peer pressure is a great driver of industry change”. 

She also expected to see some legislation on the issue in Singapore in the next five years, she told Eco-Business, especially for major producers of food waste such as the tourism and hospitality industry, and supermarkets. 

“They are all talking about the issue,” said Costelloe. “The protocol will give them a framework around which they can start to measure and reduce it.”

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