Many of us have let vegetables wither in the crisper drawer, or thrown out a child’s half-eaten restaurant meal, but the sheer scale of food waste around the globe is hard to grasp. According to the United Nations, about a third of the food the world produces every year—1.3 billion tons—is lost during production or tossed by consumers, with North Americans throwing out the most food per capita. The average American wastes enough food each month to feed another person for 19 days.
IDEO received a series of grants to find solutions to food waste, leveraging the human-centered design approach and its role in helping to address systemic challenges. Through a number of projects with sponsors and other organizations, IDEO designers from around the world devised novel ways to tackle food waste.
For IDEO’s first initiative, OpenIDEO launched the Food Waste Challenge, asking how people might curtail waste by rethinking their relationship with food and leveraging the potential of circular models. Between June and October of 2016, more than 20,000 people from 113 countries took part in the Challenge, tracking their personal waste and brainstorming solutions. 80 waste-conscious events were hosted in over 30 countries, from Saudi Arabia to Peru, where participants shared their experiences tracking their food habits and were able to learn from one another and discuss food waste in real time. Through the Challenge, over 450 ideas were generated, including a zero waste grocery store in New York and a pop-up art experience in Vienna. In the end, 12 Top Ideas were selected that were seen to be the most innovative, collaborative and greatest potential for impact. As Top Ideas, each received ongoing support, visibility and first access to OpenIDEO’s ongoing food waste innovation community.
Knowing that it takes committed and active communities to drive lasting change, OpenIDEO launched a network of 80 partners representing organizations including Feeding America, USDA, Google and Whole Foods and created a new model for longer term impact called Alliances. The Food Waste Alliance was the first of its kind: a dedicated network of targeted support and mentorship to help food waste innovators push their ideas forward even after the Challenge had ended.
The Alliance worked as a virtual accelerator, helping participants build new connections and partnerships, increase the visibility of their ideas, and share what they learned. Members connected through virtual and in-person events, shared resources and received mentorship from a multi-disciplinary network of leaders in the field. Devon Klatell, Senior Associate Director of The Rockefeller Foundation's Food Initiative said:
“At Rockefeller, we know there is no silver bullet to solving complex, systemic issues like food waste – we need to engage diverse audiences, a range of innovative solutions, and above all, collaboration. The Food Waste Alliance is a platform that can turn ideas into global solutions.”
The Alliance as a dedicated network was a catalyst for the team behind RISE, who built their first prototype and received initial seed funding during the Food Waste Challenge. After being named one of the Challenge’s Top Ideas, the team behind RISE joined the Food Waste Alliance to help further their idea of turning organic by-products into healthy and sustainable food ingredients (think transforming leftover hops from breweries into flour). Through the Alliance, RISE forged a connection with the prestigious Food-X accelerator, which invited the team to join their cohort. RISE pulled in additional funding shortly after, allowing the team to grow their staff and build new industry partnerships.
One year later, RISE had doubled their team size, and established partnerships with more than 10 breweries. Through their work, they’ve reduced spent grain waste by over 3,000 lbs. Bertha Jimenez, a co-founder of RISE, says that the Alliance was key to their continuing success:
“Through the Alliance, we’ve found a community of support, which has included connections with our first Accelerator program, strategic partnerships, expert mentors and even new customers.”
The Food Waste Alliance is currently by invitation-only, with a targeted community of 150 Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Community Organizers. OpenIDEO continues to design Alliances for new Challenges, to make sure that the innovative teams working on everything from reducing food waste to reimagining end of life care to delivering education in emergencies get the support to make real change. Food waste was the first of several topics explored in this way to support innovation for a circular economy.