My youngest daughter, Sienna, started back at school last week. Driving her to school on her first day back reminded me of something that had happened on the same journey exactly two years previously. Then, aged 14, she’d looked out of the car window as we came up the school drive and noticed the cows that graze in the fields next to the drive.
I’m not sure why, but the moment she spotted the cows it was a like a light went on. She turned round, looked me in the eye, and informed me that she’d no longer be eating beef. And two years later she has been true to her word.
However, what started as a connection with some local cows has morphed into something much bigger. On the journey up the school drive this time, she informed me that ‘a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions come from food.’ Depressingly, fact checking only confirmed her statement.
The focus of climate change tends to be on developing ‘clean energy’. And that’s not a huge surprise given that energy in the form of electricity, heat, transport or industrial processes accounts for 76% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, our renewable energy business, Octopus Energy, is tackling many of these problems head on through the deployment of renewable energy, improvements in energy efficiency and the transition and development of a ‘green grid’.
Decarbonising the food industry
How we decarbonise food production, on the other hand, is less clear. In fact, I think reducing emissions in this sector is likely to be one of our greatest challenges in the coming decades.
Why? Well in part because people like me have, until very recently, been oblivious to the problem. I’ve grown up without thinking about the wider social and environmental impact associated with the food I put on my plate (my one and only concern has been on portion control, especially in the last ten years).
To my daughter’s delight I’ve decided to reduce my meat and fish intake down to a few times a week. While I thought this would meet with her approval, it turns out I’ve got quite a bit further to go. Taking me through a tour of our fridge, she pointed out that my blueberries and strawberries had been imported from the US and that the asparagus had come from Peru. While it might seem like a simplistic way of looking at a complex problem, it does highlight the failings of the global food system.
Food waste is arguably one of the most difficult issues I’ve had to wrap my head around. Here are a few facts to make you sit up.
If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the US). 25% of the world’s fresh water supply, and an area larger than China, is used to grow 1.5 billion tonnes of food that’s never eaten each year. To put this into perspective, that’s enough food to feed every undernourished person on the planet.
And while I always believed that the supermarket skips were responsible for the majority of food waste in the UK, it turns out that they only account for about 2% of waste. 50% of food waste actually occurs in our own homes.
OLIO, solving one of the world’s biggest problems
I have, however, earned some kudos with my daughter. Largely because of one of our portfolio companies called OLIO, which I introduced her to the other day. OLIO’s vision is to create millions of hyper-local-food-sharing networks all around the world. It’s helping to create a future in which nothing goes to waste and every single person has enough to eat – without destroying our planet in the process.
OLIO effectively connects neighbours with each other, and volunteers with local businesses, so that surplus food can be given away, not thrown away. To date, five million people in over 50 countries have joined the OLIO community, sharing more than 15 million portions of food.
The company was founded in 2015 by Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One – two women who were fed up with the amount of global food waste. When Octopus Ventures first backed them in 2018, some people didn’t quite get the concept, and couldn’t understand how it would ever make money. Having recently announced a $43 million Series B round to fund its fight against the $1.3 trillion of food waste created globally each year, they are making their mark and proving the doubters wrong.
This is largely because they have been able to tap into the growing demand from businesses to reduce food waste. With the latest round of funding they plan to accelerate their Food Waste Heroes Programme on an international scale, which effectively pairs volunteers with their chosen food businesses and restaurants, and each volunteer picks up any leftover food, uploads it on the OLIO app and redistributes it to their neighbours. This scheme helps businesses achieve zero food waste, reduce their environmental impact and cut carbon emissions.
We need to find dozens more companies like OLIO. Companies which have the potential to change our relationship with food, and which are helping to build a more sustainable planet. The old adage that ‘food waste isn’t considered a problem because, for the most part, it’s not considered at all’ needs to change.