Food waste for thought

Benjamin Lephilibert, founder and managing director of LightBlue Environmental Consulting, talks about his zero food wastage movement and how he is teaching younger generations to tackle this global issue

What first inspired you to come up with a food waste prevention programme?
I identified a huge knowledge gap, which was when I realised there was an opportunity to bring about a positive impact on both business and society, while addressing one of the world’s most pressing issues.

Could you share with us a few tangible examples and successes of your work?
We started focusing on cutting food waste seven years ago, when food waste was not an issue.

One of the successes we are the proudest of is when we managed to convince the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) to endorse us, and subsidise hotels and convention centres that are adopting our food waste prevention programme.

The other achievement worth sharing are results from some of the largest hotel properties in the region such as Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, Marriott’s flagship property in Asia-Pacific. From the beginning of our collaboration in August last year, the hotel reduced food waste by more than 24,850kg in the first four months of implementation, and cut food waste per cover by 30 per cent. We also helped Marriott’s Goji restaurant be the first to achieve the Pledge on Food Waste Gold certification with 94 per cent compliance.

We are currently supporting other restaurant groups in Asia and Europe, to help them reach the gold level of certification.

Another important achievement is the implementation of a food waste prevention campaign at a school for children aged seven to 17 about 1.5 years ago, to encourage lesser food wastage. We’ve seen these kids influence their own parents to cut their wasting habits at home, which for us, is important.

Aside from TCEB, have you approached any other government organisation in South-east Asia like Singapore Tourism Board to partner with them?
We have not worked with other any government organisation in South-east Asia yet. We are, however, currently collaborating with the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, and sharing our expertise with culinary and hotel schools in France. This way, we’ll have a wider impact.

It is worth mentioning that with the TCEB scheme, we helped seven hotels to save more than 155,000kg of food, trained more than 600 professionals, and helped brought about US$600,000 worth of savings in six months. This result will hopefully convince other governmental agencies to partner with us.

The Singapore Tourism Board would be a fantastic partner, especially since
the country’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste, where the government body is working towards becoming a circular economy and zero waste nation. We first initiated talks with The National Environment Agency two years ago, but they did not seem interested at that time, though it may be different today.

I really want to work with Hong Kong, as the need to address food waste is dire there, with landfills choking on waste, and I hope to build bridges with the country soon to bring about an impact.

Could you share with us an overview of the organisation’s learning modules on food efficiency for hospitality schools?
Our work entails three complementary steps.

One, implement a food waste prevention system within operations of culinary schools; two, using the framework offered by the PLEDGE on Food Waste to involve students, staff and chef instructors in a hands-on certification project; and three, sharing knowledge with students from a more scientific angle.

The last is composed of five modules covering the global economic, social and environment repercussions of food waste; food waste and other negative impacts along the supply chain; how to set up an efficient food waste prevention system in food operations (categories, methodology, stakeholders, tools and practices); metrics, KPIs and the necessary new ways to assess F&B performance; and finally, innovation, technologies and international standards such as the PLEDGE on Food Waste, and the Food Loss and Waste Protocol by World Resources Institute.

You mentioned you are working on designing strategic food efficiency programme for hotel groups. Could you please share more?
We want to help hotel groups design and implement a food efficiency strategy across their entire portfolio, as this will save hundreds of tonnes of food, and several million dollar, a year.

They might have goals to cut food waste by 30 or 50 per cent, but reality is knowledge is lacking, data collection is not done properly, and people don’t understand the food waste situation. One of our largest challenges is that hotel groups may not realise the true cost of food waste as it is not quantified, or they do not look at operation costs as a whole.

Misconceptions are hard to change, for example, buffets have been identified as a focus point whereas it only represents 10 to 15% of all food waste for large operations. It is common for large catering venues and hotels to waste more than 900kg of food per day, with an estimated cost at US$3,000 to US$5,000 a day. The cost of food waste ranges between eight to 14 per cent of total revenue!

So we want to make the most of our seven years of experience; thousands of hours spent bin-diving; and all the trial and errors we went through, to support large hotels and restaurant groups design and adopt the right strategy, define the right KPIs, analyse the right data, and use the correct approach and adapted tools. Using a food excess monitoring solution that includes a corporate performance dashboard for example, would help them monitor the situation closely.

Aside from hotels, are you also working with event organisers and corporate planners and their caterers?
We currently do not work with event organisers. We have been working on the capacity building side, for instance, delivering energy-packed workshops for MICE professionals on how to integrate food efficiency strategies and revealing tips on ways to reduce food going to landfills as a differentiation factor.

We haven’t been able to explore a complete food waste prevention programme at events yet, but I am confident it’s just a question of partnership and timing.

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