Reducing Food Waste through Open Innovation
Matt Ridenour

Matt Ridenour Partnerships & Community Designer, OpenIDEO

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May 09, 2017

Reducing Food Waste through Open Innovation

How collaborative ideation fueled a search for food waste solutions.

If food waste were a nation, it would rank third in the world for harmful emissions. Along with the environmental damage, there’s a human cost. Globally, 30–40% of food produced for consumption is wasted. At the same time, 800 million people in the world are undernourished. In the U.S., 1 in 7 people struggle with food insecurity. If we were to close the loop, we could help manage waste, protect our planet and greatly reduce hunger. But how?

In June of 2016, OpenIDEO partnered with the City of San Francisco Department of Environment, Closed Loop Foundation, The Fink Family Foundation, ReFED and The Rockefeller Foundation to launch the Food Waste Challenge to answer that very question.

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

The Challenge

At OpenIDEO, we believe that collaboration fosters innovation. When faced with the world’s most pressing challenges, we’ve been awed by the power of working together rather than in silos. And our aspiration to use open innovation and design to create solutions to address food waste proved no different.

Over the course of 3 months, over 20,000 individuals from over 100 countries around the world engaged in the OpenIDEO Challenge.

Given that nearly 40% of food waste in the U.S. occurs at the consumer level, we called on participants to track their waste, measuring all the scraps they threw away. It was an enlightening experience — many said they were shocked by how much they wasted, began actively taking steps to toss less, and started to rethink the way they cooked at home

We then catalyzed participants to host more than 80 waste-conscious events 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. Following these events, the community hosted Hack Your Waste brainstorms focused on designing food waste solutions.

The Top Ideas

Through this process, some amazing ideas were generated, including a Zero Waste grocery store in New York and a pop-up art experience in Vienna. More than 450 ideas were submitted from around the world, from new community-driven food waste solutions to jumpstarts for existing, impactful startups. All of the participants then engaged in an essential part of the human-centered design process: iterative feedback, sharing thousands of comments on ideas, sparking conversations and offering new ways to improve solutions.

Through the Challenge we received valuable feedback on a scale we never thought possible. I couldn’t believe we were simultaneously engaging with local farmers in Tanzania and large food brands in California that have led to new opportunities for our business.

— Ross Polk, Full Cycle Bioplastics

During the Challenge, OpenIDEO teamed with a network of over 80 food waste industry leaders who brought immense collective expertise and support along the journey. These experts were valuable in helping select the 12 Top Ideas. These ideas demonstrated a wide variety of innovative and collaborative approaches to reducing food waste and the greatest validity and potential impact to help address the issue. As Top Ideas, each received ongoing support, visibility and first access to OpenIDEO’s ongoing food waste innovation community.

Our partner Closed Loop Foundation discovered Full Cycle Bioplastics through the Challenge, and awarded them $50,000 to scale their efforts. The Full Cycle Bioplastics team used that funding to purchase their first centrifuge, allowing them to scale up their lab testing capacity efforts by 40x and get closer to converting food waste into a fully compostable bioplastic.

Challenges open up a funder’s request for proposals, a process that is typically closed and only benefits the winners of the grant. Even organizations that weren’t awarded funding were able to learn from the process, and form collaborations that support their work. Re-Plate came across designer Mehrafza Mirzazad through the Challenge, and a few weeks later she joined as their creative director. Similarly, ReGrained met former chef Philip Saneski, who is now using his culinary expertise to transform the beer-to-food startup as VP of Product.

Team RISE received their first funding support by meeting Aitan of Scraps to Feed in the Challenge. They co-hosted local events with Toast Ale, and were accepted to Food-X Accelerator which allowed them to launch their organization and begin to drive real impact.

OpenIDEO helped expose our idea to a global audience and gain legitimacy. Through the Challenge, we got our first investment ever, were accepted to a top Accelerator and are scaling our operations and impact. Most importantly, we now have a community of support around us.

— Bertha Jimenez, RISE Marketplace

Emerging Themes

Across all the ideas submitted, four major themes emerged. These themes seemed to hold significant weight for our participants globally, and will most likely inform the trajectory of food waste reduction and initiatives in the years ahead.

Waste Means Business

  • Local economies are transforming as food scraps become business opportunities. How might we support new business ventures around re-purposing food waste?
  • Example: Cornucopia Group

Food Habits

  • We can’t change what we don’t track — and consumer habits have a major impact on food-related supply chains. How might we transform our behavior in order to reduce food waste and see ourselves as agents of change?
  • Example: Eat the Old One First

Think Locally to Scale Globally

  • What might zero waste look like on a small scale — from a meal to a kitchen to a community to a city? The actions of micro-communities can coalesce to power global movements. How might we create and leverage efforts that start in our own backyards, enabling them to create far-reaching change?
  • Example: Save Food Grow Jobs

Better Together

  • New partners, new possibilities. The combination of fresh, bold ideas and existing efforts can form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. How might new technologies, transportation, education, or other unlikely contributors be part of powerful new models?
  • Example: Food Flow
Government, corporates, NGO’s, investors and community organizers gather with innovators, designers and entrepreneurs for a Hack Your Waste event to design food waste solutions. Events like this set the foundation for OpenIDEO’s Food Waste Alliance, a longer-term platform for open innovation around the topic of food waste.

What’s next?

The response of these entrepreneurs and our partners confirmed that there was a need for engagement beyond the Challenge. We sought to build on this mounting global momentum by creating a sustainable, engaged network of innovators designing food waste solutions together.

Enter the Food Waste Alliance, a longer-term platform for open innovation around the topic of food waste. Following the Challenge, we invited a cohort of the best and brightest ideas, startups, and efforts to share resources and catalyze ongoing food waste impact. Currently in beta testing phase with a targeted community of Innovators, we expect to open the Food Waste Alliance to a global community including Government, Corporates, NGO’s, Investors, Community Organizers and more during the summer of 2017. 

In order to design a zero-waste food system that promotes food security and a sustainable planet, we need to come together with a collaborative spirit. Whether you’re an innovator, an organization, or an interested individual, we invite you to join us in this effort.

Interested in learning more?

Visit the Food Waste Challenge
Download the Food Waste Challenge Report
Learn more about the Food Waste Alliance


This piece first appeared on Medium and reposted with permission.

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