Photo: Dan Saelinger/Trunk Archive
If global food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, after the U.S. and China. Yet when Andrew Shakman founded Leanpath, he says “no one cared … including my mother.” Shakman started out with a financial focus; Leanpath provides companies such as Google and Ikea with scales, cameras, and data analysis to help them measure the amount of food their corporate kitchens are wasting and then save money by reducing that waste. But he soon discovered that Leanpath could also have a profound impact on climate change. Here, he tells us how food waste became about more than the bottom line.
Why did you start Leanpath?
We saw that there was a financial problem: Menu prices were growing at a slower rate than wholesale food prices. At the same time, we recognized that kitchens were really factories, but they weren’t viewed that way. Our theory was if we took the things that work in manufacturing and put them to work in kitchens, we could help people become more efficient.
And then you discovered the environmental consequences.
One-third of the food we produce is either lost or wasted. Between 7 and 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from the production and handling of food that we waste. Also, we’ll have to feed almost 10 billion people on this planet by 2050, and we’re going to have to do damaging things to our environment to increase production—or we can get more efficient and use the food that we’re currently wasting.
What’s your methodology?
We focus initially on pre-consumer waste. We begin with measurement. When you measure things, you learn what you’re wasting, why, and when, and that allows you to make changes to production, to purchasing, to your menus. On the other hand, you also engage people. I was in a kitchen in a hospital, and a pot washer came up to me and said, “What are you doing here?” He wasn’t friendly. I said, “I’m here to help you reduce food waste.” I wasn’t sure if he was going to kick me out. He said, “It’s about time.”
When did you see that this was a sustainable business?
In 2015, the United Nations adopted Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which calls for cutting global food waste by 50 percent per capita by 2030. From there, a variety of countries and communities
started to pass laws related to food waste. So you have this awareness globally about the importance, environmentally and socially. At the same time, you had an awakening on the financial side.
Do you have any advice for socially minded entrepreneurs?
You need to be a pragmatist. If you only accept perfection, you will miss opportunities for meaningful change. You’ve got to remember that perfect is the enemy of good and that changing one step at a time requires that first step. And people always need a business case. You’ve got to be able to show why it makes sense financially before you can get traction on environmental and social issues.
BY THE NUMBERS
U.N.’s target to cut global food waste by 2030
Food waste Leanpath saves every two seconds
Amount of food produced globally that goes to waste
Average amount of a site’s food waste that Leanpath saves
Percentage of companies that could cut food waste 50% within a year