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World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

filtered by category: Consumption

  • Date: 10 December 2019
  • Author: Pete Pearson, Senior Director, Food Loss and Waste

Every school day when the end-of-lunch bell rings and students return to class, a little something often gets left behind: the remains of their lunch. Maybe their tray was over-filled, maybe they weren’t hungry yet for lunch, maybe they didn’t have enough time to finish everything. Some of what’s left on their tray might be inedible scraps, like a banana peel, but likely some portion of it is still edible food. Whatever the reason, this food ends up in the trash – to the tune of as much as 530,000 tons each school year in the U.S. alone.

Food is our most precious gift and comes with a tremendous environmental, economic, and social cost. Agriculture’s expanding footprint is the single largest driver of habitat and biodiversity loss. The global food system uses 70% of our fresh water and creates greenhouse gas emissions both during production and when it’s landfilled. And all of this while more than 16 million children in America face hunger.

These numbers come from World Wildlife Fund’s Food Waste Warrior project, a first-of-its-kind combination educational program and plate waste analysis in U.S. school cafeterias. With support from The Kroger Co. Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4, we collected data in 46 schools across nine cities: Atlanta, Boulder, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Nashville, Phoenix, Portland, and Seattle.

We found that each of the schools produced on average 39.2 pounds of food waste per student per year. For milk – a product that we singled out because of its nutritional value, environmental footprint, and its prevalence on the lunch menu – we found that an average of around 19.4 cartons per student per year are either getting spilled down the drain or tossed messily into the trash.

Starting to test a common methodology around gathering data on cafeteria plate waste was one of the key objectives of this program – to guide students and staff to run audits and consistently examine their waste stream to track progress and reduce. But that wasn’t the only goal. We also sought to engage students and foster an understanding of the connections between food, what goes to waste, and the environment.

While this project didn’t formally test interventions specifically designed to curb waste, something incredible happened: through education, awareness-raising, measurement, and informal interventions, food waste in participating elementary schools dropped an average of 14.5% over the timeline of the audits – about 4-6 weeks. Milk waste across participating schools dropped around 12%. Our top three elementary school performers reduced total food waste per student by a whopping 53% from first to last audit.

If we could cut food waste this much in schools nationwide, it could mean huge benefits for the environment, the students, and the schools themselves. Reducing total wasted food by just 3%, the average we saw from all participating schools, could add up to the equivalent of taking 12,400 passenger vehicles off the road for one year. If schools nationally reduced just milk waste by the average 12.4% we saw in our study, we could potentially save $17 million in lunchroom costs. These savings could be reinvested back into food service programs to improve nutrition while also establishing the cafeteria as a real-world learning environment.

Looking forward, there are several things school districts can do to realize – or even expand on – this opportunity. Solutions range from focusing on a prevention-first model; consistent measuring; staffing up or utilizing volunteers and PTA/PTO investments to take on conservation or natural resource management responsibilities; implementing food rescue programs to help recapture and distribute safe, surplus food to students in need through systems like share tables, backpack programs or local community groups; and at the very least keeping food out of landfills. Schools could be the institutions making landfill diversion happen at scale immediately across the US – and discussing the connections between composting and healthy soils. Food should never be allowed to go to landfills.

While not all solutions will work for all schools, just about everyone can find some ways to reduce their waste. The most important thing schools can do is educate and empower their students. Seeing first-hand how much food is wasted and understanding the connection food has to nature and wildlife, students may willingly change their behavior, and then with any luck they become lifelong food waste warriors. For the sake of the planet we can’t continue wasting 30-40% of all food we produce. A new generation that appreciates the true value of food – and doesn’t view food as a disposable commodity – is an imperative for our future. Time is up, we need action today.

  • Date: 10 October 2018

It’s no secret that as the world’s population continues to rise, so does our demand on its resources. Between growing incomes and the need to feed more people, the rate of consumption will continue to far outpace the systems necessary to manage this consumption. Because our waste systems simply can’t keep up, uncollected or leaked waste will continue to wreak havoc on the environment. Litter doesn’t just affect the beauty of our environment – it affects the health of ecosystems, biodiversity, and humans alike.

At World Wildlife Fund (WWF) we work to stop the flow of waste into nature, but we realize that changes are needed earlier in the material management system to eliminate the potential for massive downstream effects even before they become an issue. We need to develop innovative solutions that work to improve the entire system from the earliest stages of product development.

WWF’s Cascading Materials Vision is the foundation for what a holistic material management solution looks like. We’ve recently joined the NextGen Cup Consortium, led by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy and in cooperation with founding partners Starbucks and McDonalds, to help bring part of this vision to life through a multi-year initiative.

Launching this week is the Consortium’s inaugural initiative, the NextGen Cup Challenge, which will seek to transform one of the most recognizable single-use items: the paper cup. The challenge, managed by OpenIDEO, aims to catalyze ideation and action leading to the adoption of a new, sustainable, single-use cup that can be recycled or composted on a global scale. 

The challenge will analyze the cup as part of the larger system it fits into and designers will strive to create a new fiber cup that is one part of a more sustainable global waste management strategy.

While single-use cups are only part of our waste problem, this challenge is the Consortium’s first step in revolutionizing the recovery of materials in the packaging industry.

Why is this challenge necessary?

Most paper cups distributed today are sent to a landfill. Therefore, a critical piece of the challenge is designing a cup that can be recovered at the highest scale globally and across a range of regions that have different infrastructure systems. Ultimately the greenest cup is the one you bring with you, but until this practice becomes a cultural norm, we need to make sure our fast-moving consumer cups have minimal environmental impacts.

We produce over 250 billion paper cups each year. While these cups must always meet health and safety standards and be convenient, lightweight, printable, durable, and functional across a wide range of temperatures, there has never been enough pressure to source and produce these cups in a sustainable way. This challenge is necessary because the current cup is created and used on such a large scale that it has enormous waste management impacts. In addition, we are wasting valuable resources that could be given new life and we are constantly demanding virgin materials to produce more cups.

Technically, traditional paper cups (as well as almost anything), can be recycled if broken down physically or chemically. However, for recycling to actually occur on a meaningful scale, there must be value for the recovered material. The economics of recovery must be such that the value of the re-processed material is still higher than the costs of re-processing. In addition, there needs to be a large enough volume of the specific material to make it profitable. Therefore, the more uniformity in sustainable packaging materials, the easier it will be for a global system to recapture the value of the material.

Why is WWF involved?

Progress towards a global system of material recovery is exceptionally difficult due to the scale of the issue and the number of stakeholders that must be involved to achieve meaningful results. WWF not only recognizes the scale of this problem but also the enormous potential for positive change. As the world population grows, so does demand for goods and packaging and our natural resources suffer. Items such as paper cups are thrown away every day without regard to their potential value in a circular economy. Recovering materials such as single-use fiber cups means taking advantage of an opportunity to do more with less.

WWF serves as an advisory partner on the NextGen Cup Challenge because we look at environmental issues from a broad and comprehensive lens. WWF will provide guidance throughout the competition to ensure that as one environmental issue is being solved, others are not created. WWF’S ability to recognize and evaluate tradeoffs will help inform decisions made by the NextGen Cup Consortium and the team at WWF is already at work helping establish the criteria for a successful and sustainable fiber cup.

Join the challenge! Here’s how:

The NextGen Cup Challenge will officially launch on October 9 when entrepreneurs, designers, and companies are encouraged to submit proposals. Several phases, including reviews and refinement, will occur before the top ideas are announced in February 2019.

Moving Forward

The NextGen Consortium is actively looking to partner with other companies, as they recognize that increased support from other partners will trigger market signals that reverberate throughout the entire value chain. The paper cup is one of those challenging single use items whose re-design for recovery can open the door for wide-scale recovery of other single-use packaging. We know that the global solution to material waste will not be successful through individual attempts at solutions. We must collaborate on a systems approach to maximize our collective potential for success. We believe that, by inviting the full suite of actors to the table, the NextGen Consortium is talking strides towards a promising solution to single-use material waste.

To stay informed as the NextGen Cup challenge progresses, check out

  • Date: 03 March 2016
  • Author: Simon Billing, Forum for the Future

This week Forum for the Future launches The Protein Challenge 2040. It is the culmination of a year of enquiry by a really unusual coalition of food companies, retailers, feed companies and NGOs into what we like to call the big protein question: How are we going to feed 9 billion people enough protein by 2040, in a way that is healthy, affordable and good for the environment?

It’s a tough question, and one that we have grappled with together over long hours reviewing past research and evidence, meetings and discussions – both in the office and over the dinner table at home.

Having worked with 200 stakeholders across the protein system and read countless research reports, it was clear that our future food security is an issue that people are very passionate about. It was also clear that polarized discussions were getting in the way of progress. Different types of protein sources were labelled ‘"good’" or "bad", effectively preventing people from finding a common way forward.

Through these conversations, we discovered organizations that were working toward more sustainable protein in different ways. Some were exploring sustainable nutrition, others were investigating which future protein sources to get behind. Realizing the complexity of the issues and the number of different protein sources – not just animal to plant, these organizations saw the benefits of joining forces for the first time – hence the formation of The Protein Challenge 2040.

During the past year, we’ve worked hard to map the entire protein system, something that has never been done before. The issues within the system are very complex:

Balancing access to good nutrition with sustainable production

Some nutritionists we spoke to were perplexed. Protein is essential for human health, but why were some people labelling it "bad"? There are great inequalities of access, with some of us eating more than sufficient protein, with others facing a serious lack, and both sets of circumstances are associated with major health risks. And, not all sources of protein are the same in terms of how much nutrition they provide and how much impact their production has on the environment. Some sources of protein are resource-intensive and have many environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, heavy water consumption and habitat destruction.

Complex interrelationships

The protein system comprises the animal, plant and alternative protein industries and all their value chains are very deeply linked. Over 50% of good quality plant protein grown is fed to animals and a good proportion of wild-caught fish is fed to farm animals and fish. The protein system is over-dependent on soy for animal feed, and the cultivation of soy in turn drives deforestation. So it’s not simply enough to find more sustainable ways of growing a crop, it’s also about finding alternatives and tackling demand.

Changing diets

As we struggle to feed 9 billion demand for protein will only grow, and much of the demand will be for animal protein. So we do need to address consumer diets and consumption, as well as looking at the diets of those animals themselves. And, as any retailer can tell you, trying to influence consumer behavior is never easy!

The Protein Challenge 2040 steering group comprises some visionary companies that recognize this complexity and the challenges ahead. With Forum as independent facilitators of the coalition, the group worked to identify the solutions that the protein system can take collective action on now, in order to catalyze the greatest change and shift the system onto a more sustainable path.

Using future scenarios to test the system in different possible worlds and working with over 200 experts and innovators in London, New York, Rotterdam and San Francisco, we have identified six areas for innovation and action. We agree that we do need to have a better balance of proteins from plants rather than animal sources and we do need to scale game-changing alternatives to animal feed, as well as tackling the loss of protein-rich waste across the system. Most importantly, we recognize the world needs to focus on protein, now.

This isn’t a report on problems in the food system. It is an invitation for you to join us in transforming the future of protein together. If you have the expertise, knowledge and resources to drive forward the solutions in these areas, we want to hear from you. We’re beginning a new journey together looking for other businesses, entrepreneurs and experts who will help us go further and faster. Does that sound like you?

Editor's Note:

WWF is proud to be a part of Forum for the Future’s Protein Challenge. All of the issues it’s tackling are critical, and WWF-US will work with the Forum particularly closely on scaling up sustainable feed innovation. Because they require energy and nutrients just for the maintenance of their lives, food animals require more natural resources than plants to produce food for us. As the global population grows and, with it, demand for protein, we have to find ways to produce and use animal feed more efficiently, and to use nutrients that animals can convert into edible protein but otherwise go to waste today. Nothing less than our climate, the health of our forests, grasslands, and oceans, and the diversity of life on Earth are at stake.

Carlos Saviani, Vice President, Sustainable Food, World Wildlife Fund


  • Date: 16 February 2016

The following is an exerpt from KPMG's recent report, Unlocking the Power of Partnership. Read the full case study by downloading the report.

Identifying shared Value

For more than 40 years, society’s demand on natural resources has surpassed what our planet can replenish. These demands include resources consumed for food, fuel and fiber, land on which we build, and forests that filter our air. A growing population and rising middle class will only exacerbate these pressures, unless we recognize that our continued prosperity depends on the natural resources sustained by a healthy planet. 

Business is increasingly realizing that they are not immune to these pressures. The supply chains of large companies depend on natural resources from all around the world. Natural resource management is more and more tied to operational and reputational risk, and ultimately, to the long-term viability of a company. Corporations therefore have a business interest in understanding how their products and the raw materials used in global operations are impacting local communities, biodiversity, and the environment. While there is a clear imperative to take action, business cannot tackle these risks alone.

NGOs are uniquely qualified to build cross-sector partnerships that address complex challenges affecting both global and local stakeholders. NGOs are consistently ranked as the most trusted type of institution by t he Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey measuring stakeholder perceptions across 27 markets worldwide. In addition to bringing a foundation of trust to cross-sector partnerships, international NGOs leverage their global networks, technical credibility, and convening power to collaborate with companies in ways that meet the needs of people and nature.

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  • Date: 05 August 2015

The green Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on a product means the most responsible forest management practices were used to make the product. Smaller trees were not harmed when harvesting larger trees, the rights of people living in or near the forest were respected, wildlife habitat was not degraded, and more.

Many forest operators know this or are learning about it. That’s huge progress. But taking action to get the FSC certification is another story. Often, they think the cost of FSC will have a negative impact on their bottom line.

A WWF study published today dispels this belief.

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  • Date: 23 October 2014

We recently sat down with Bob Langert, McDonald's vice president of sustainability, to learn more about how environmental stewardship is playing a part in the company's decision making.


Bob Langert, vice president of sustainability, McDonald's

What does sustainability mean to McDonald’s?

For McDonald’s, sustainability is all about creating shared value – for our business and the world in which we operate. We truly believe that we can grow our business by making a positive difference.

We now have a bold 2020 Framework that is guiding our work, centered on Five Pillars: Food, Sourcing, People, Community and Planet. We’ve developed measurable, forward-looking goals in areas like energy efficiency that prove the linkage between good business and good sustainability. For example, we are aiming to reduce our energy usage in company-owned restaurants by 20% by 2020. It is our #1 environmental impact for both company-owned and franchised restaurant operations, reducing our carbon footprint and our annual energy bill, estimated at over $2 billion.

Sustainability also means living Our Values every day, and making decisions based on these values. Doing the right thing has, and always will be a critical part of who we are as a company.

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  • Date: 26 June 2013
  • Author: Nick Conger

The world has never seen economic growth at a rate currently happening in China. Having surpassed Japan in 2011, it’s quickly become the world’s second largest economy and its GDP continues to expand (though ebbing in recent years).

I’m just back from a 10-day visit to China and can attest to this growth. Industrial cranes fill the skylines from Beijing to Dalian to Wuhan, construction vehicles clog traffic patterns, pollution billows into the air. So much that China is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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  • Date: 09 May 2013
  • Author: Nick Conger

We’ve all heard stories about the foolish rich guy who blew his fortune on outlandish cars, homes and yachts. They usually follow a predictable path: He experiences a windfall of cash, spends beyond his means and inevitably plummets into bankruptcy.

This story is being played out on the biggest stage of all: Planet Earth. On the whole, humanity is currently on a natural resource spending binge. At the same time, more than a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Until we balance these inequities, we’ll all suffer the consequences – from the price we pay for food to access to clean water.

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  • Date: 02 May 2013
  • Author: Nick Conger

Maybe it’s all the recent droughts, or severe storms, or basic supply/demand dynamics, but there's a lot of buzz about water risk these days. Alexis Morgan, a global water expert at WWF, is most concerned with the latter issue. Alexis and executives from PepsiCo and Calvert take to the “Wet & Wild: Assessing & Managing Agricultural Water Risks” panel session at today’s Ceres Conference, where they’ll discuss strategies to bring water use back into balance with nature.

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  • Date: 24 April 2013
  • Author: Nick Conger

Being green in our material world can be exhasuting. Our global economic engine runs on consumer spending. But the more we spend, the more we consume, the more our planet struggles to sustain itself. If we continue gobbling up resources at the current rate, by 2030 we will need the equivalent of two planets to maintain life as we know it.

Reconciling this conundrum may seem impossible. But fear not my material friends, balance can be achieved.

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