Fighting Food Waste Together

How an ongoing community helped support food waste innovators worldwide.

The Challenge

How might we dramatically reduce food waste by transforming our relationship with food?

The Outcome

An accelerator-style community - called an Alliance - that helps food waste innovators build out their ideas.

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.

OpenIDEO’s Food Waste Challenge engaged over 20,000 people around the world to design solutions to reduce 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 Food Waste Alliance provided innovators like Marcos of FeedTruck with tailored support, a community of peers, and mentorship from leaders in the field.

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.

‍RISE, a marketplace for transforming organic leftovers into food ingredients, first prototyped their idea during OpenIDEO’s Food Waste Challenge.‍‍‍

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. 

Felicia Chiao

San Francisco, USA

Felicia Chiao is an industrial designer and illustrator based in San Francisco. By day, she works as an industrial designer for IDEO's Design for Food team, and at night she has been drawing in sketchbooks for over seven years, mostly for fun.

Felicia's Design Tips

"When starting a composition, create an anchor first and then build around it. The anchor can be the focus of the piece (like an object/animal/person) or a setting (interior, beach, city, etc.) and the rest of the elements drawn in after should support it."

You don’t need to know what the whole drawing is going to look like when you start it. Start with what you know and build into it as you go. If you don't enjoy what you're making it will show, so if something you're working on doesn't feel right, bite the bullet and start over instead of wasting time overworking it. I work mostly with markers, which often limits my choice of colors for the color palette, but you can start with the colors you know you will use (a red apple, blue water, etc) and then looking at your palette, pick which other colors would go well with what you have.

Erika Díaz Gómez

Bógota, Colombia

Erika was born in Colombia and loves creating stories without words. She thinks that telenovelas are more interesting than science fiction.

Erika's Design Tips

"Create your own personal and technical rules; fail, win and be patient."

Learn from yourself. Document, revisit and appreciate what you designed in the past. Explore your personal craft and celebrate your creator's identity. Make and repeat. Go analog, explore both your personal and craft's constraints, and don't let your commercial work take over. Art and side projects are the best teachers.

May Kodama

Oakland, USA

May is a true-crime-podcast-listening, plant caring, constantly eating, Japanese-American graphic designer. She strives to make good design, travel the world, and become the mother of five dogs at some point in her life.

May's Design Tips

"Try limiting your color palette to 1-5 colors, and even limit the shades of those colors. Explore how simply you can communicate depth and perspective with the layering of the limited palette. You can start with monochrome in pure black and white, before layering the additional complexity of color."

Always be hungry for discovery. The thing that motivates me the most is experimentation and exploration. I'm always looking for new mediums to try out and play in, whether it be in 2D, 3D, digital, motion, etc. I find that as long as I'm constantly doing and learning something new, I stay inspired and excited about the work. However, don’t look at too much inspiration. Sometimes, I can get lost on the Pinterest train, clicking into link after link after link. Visual overload can crowd and push out your own ideas, so be careful to balance looking externally and looking internally. Inspiration can only help so much. Save space for your own creativity to flow.

Allison Press

Oakland, USA

Allison is an interaction designer and strategist at IDEO on a mission to design for the public good. Whether it’s improving how public institutions serve their citizens, creating digital access to learning, or cultivating civic engagement, she is driven toward systems-level challenges with optimism and obsession for figuring out how design can be used to more equitably serve people. In her spare time, she enjoys making gifts that celebrate the people who make her life full.

Alison's Design Tips

"A balanced composition has three things—a large element (like a colored background), a medium element (like the focal point), and a small element (to add visual texture)."

If you want to take your creation to the next level, adding a little bit of texture in digital illustrations goes a long way.

Learn More

Check out our Circular Design Challenge focused on reducing plastic waste, our Nike Design with Grind Challenge to create new products with existing materials, or explore IDEO’s Circular Design Guide.