Food Donation Can Significantly Reduce Hunger in Local Communities

Jan 7, 2016 11:45 AM ET
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The holiday season can be a great time to reflect upon the many blessings for which we are thankful: nutritious food, the gift of friends and family and good health. But it can be a difficult time for those in need, especially for the 48 million people dealing with hunger. Using food responsibly and donating excess food can help make the holiday season more plentiful and hunger-free for all.

The issue of food waste
Every year, 60 million tons of food are wasted in the United States. Retailers and consumers are responsible for wasting nearly a third of the country’s food supply, with the average American family throwing away an estimated $1,500 worth of food every year.

Food waste has serious consequences for our environment. The 133 billion pounds of food that ends up sitting in landfills each year releases methane gas as it rots, contributing to climate change. In fact, if food waste and loss were its own country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. At the same time, food recovery helps us avoid the tragedy of throwing away food when one in six people struggle with hunger across the United States, including 15 million children. Reducing food waste by 15 percent would help cut hunger in half.

Aligning with EPA’s food waste hierarchy
In September, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the United States’ first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50 percent reduction by 2030. As part of the effort, the federal government will partner with charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food loss and waste in order to improve overall food security and conserve our nation’s natural resources.

As a member of the USGBC community, Sodexo believes the LEED standard should actively promote food donation as a solution for waste reduction and for improving the lives of millions of people struggling with hunger. Incorporating food recovery criteria into the LEED rating system will motivate USGBC members to integrate food recovery activities into their operational processes, and heighten awareness of existing programs and sharing of best practices.

The LEED O+M: Existing Buildings—Solid waste management credit currently allocates 2 possible points for composting. Composting of food waste, specifically, is only required of existing schools and hospitality locations, in order for them to achieve this credit. Although composting is a food waste management strategy encouraged by EPA’s Food Waste Hierarchy, after source reduction, food donation is the best practice for managing food waste. The LEED standard does not currently award any points for food donation. The standard should be updated to reward food donation programs with points and adequately incentivize buildings to enhance their waste strategies with a food recovery component. This update to the LEED standard will provide one more mechanism through which Sodexo can support our clients in achieving their LEED certification goals.

Food donation at Sodexo
As part of Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow Plan commitments, Sodexo’s top priority after preventing food waste is to feed the hungry. In 1996, Sodexo’s Stop Hunger program was established, and today Sodexo is one of the largest donors of surplus perishable and nonperishable food, donating hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to local food banks across the country. Over the next 12 months, our goal is to recover enough food to provide one million meals. We will achieve this, in part, by collaborating with food recovery partners, such as Feeding America, Food Recovery Network and The Campus Kitchens Project. Sodexo is also proud to be a founding partner of Food Recovery Certified, the first food recovery certification program, which is accredited by Food Recovery Network, the largest student movement against food waste and hunger in America. Sodexo has 22 certified locations to date.

Leveraging our expertise, Sodexo has led the food service industry in creating specific operating standards for food recovery programs, including safe food handling procedures and guidance to food service operators about the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that protects companies and organizations from liability when donating to a nonprofit organization.

Given the importance of the issue of food waste to Sodexo and our clients, we are taking the lead on urging USGBC to leverage its unique platform to accelerate food waste reduction around the country.

We’d like to hear from you
Sodexo and USGBC would like to hear your thoughts about updating the USGBC LEED standard to include recognition for food recovery initiatives. What food waste reduction initiatives are you working on, and how could a food donation component enhance them? Tell us about any existing food donation efforts that would be recognized as a result of an updated standard.

Bob Stern is President of the Sodexo Foundation and Group General Counsel for Sodexo. Mr. Stern is a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life.  He is committed to mobilizing communities and resources to ensure children have dependable access to enough nutritious food to enable them to lead a healthy, productive life.