Going green is an increasingly important aspect of doing business, and it makes up one-third of the so-called "triple bottom line," or TBL. What is the triple bottom line? As the name might suggest, it’s the combination of three bottom lines: social, financial, and environmental. Your small business might be doing well on the social and financial fronts, but how are your activities impacting the environment? If you’re involved in the food industry, a big factor to look into is food waste.
How Big of an Issue Is Food Waste, Anyway?
Food waste is a big issue. A 2014 report by Value Chain Management International found that Canada wastes about $31 billion worth of food each year. When you think of food waste, you might imagine the food that gets forgotten in the back of your fridge or maybe edible scraps that are left on plates at a restaurant. But that annual food waste statistic is more than just the type of waste that the public sees.
In fact, food waste happens at every step from the farm to the table — factory quality control standards sometimes mean that odd-shaped chips, cookies, or French fries are skimmed off the assembly line, even when they’re perfectly edible. At the grocery store, misshapen fruits and vegetables that are otherwise safe for consumption get discarded in favour of more appetizing displays. Food shipments sometimes freeze or go bad in the back of trucks when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
How Can Businesses Benefit From Reducing Food Waste?
That $31 billion isn’t just an abstract statistic. Much of that is money that’s coming directly out of the pockets of Canadian farmers, consumers, and most importantly, business owners. If you run a restaurant, you probably spend a certain amount of money on food each month, expecting to earn that money back, plus profits, when your customers buy meals from your menu.
When you’re wasting a significant amount of food before it even reaches the customer’s plate, however, you’re not meeting your triple bottom line. Not only is food waste bad for the environment, but it probably also means you’re spending more than you budgeted on raw foods each month. Now you’re not meeting your financial bottom line, either.
How Can Businesses Reduce Food Waste?
So you’ve heard enough of the doom and gloom and you’re ready to make a change. The first step is to figure out where most of your food waste is actually happening. You don’t have to do this alone — get help from an organization like the Provision Coalition, which offers a handy food waste toolkit for identifying and fixing sources of waste in your company.
Start by crunching the numbers. How much food does your business actually waste? Trace this food waste back to its origin. Are you over-buying an ingredient and throwing most of that stock away when it doesn’t get used? Perhaps your freezers aren’t calibrated properly and food isn’t keeping for as long as it should.
Once you identify the source or sources of your food waste, you can start to talk about solutions. With the first example, the answer could be as simple as reducing the amount of stock you’re buying each month. Pick a solution and test it out over an appropriate period of time, like six months or a year. By buying less of an infrequently used ingredient, you save on two accounts — you spend less in the first place and lose less of that money to food spoilage.
Even the best restaurant owners have to toss out a moldy loaf of bread from time to time, but don’t assume that regular food waste is just the way it is. Evaluate your business’ level of monthly food waste, and try out solutions until you find the one that works best for your triple bottom line.