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SXSW: Getting to Zero


Photo credit: Rob Bertholf

Late last week, SXSW—the Austin-based conference and festival that explores the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries—made a bold statement.

In an ambitious blog post at the start of its 2017 gathering, SXSW became the first event of its kind to announce its intention to eliminate wasted food at its conference and festival within five years. Commitments like these are important for many reasons.

First, they are evidence that the momentum we saw throughout 2016 on reducing wasted food in the U.S. is crystallizing into a movement—one that is broadening from sustainability and policy circles into popular culture. It’s going to take that kind of movement to meet our shared national and global goal of halving the amount of food going to landfills by 2030. Helping to create a movement is one reason we launched YieldWise, our own $130 million, seven-year initiative to cut wasted food in half globally.

Second, this announcement is notable because it’s unexpected. SXSW may not be known primarily as a food event, but its organizers nonetheless understand they have a role to play. The challenge of wasted food is a systemic one—and every company, event, institution, government, and person can be part of the solution to it.

Finally, perhaps the most exciting aspect of the SXSW commitment is that it demonstrates that organizations can take action immediately, even while a strategic plan is still in formation.

“… Organizations can take action immediately…”

As their blog post explains, SXSW sees many ways “to prevent, recover, or repurpose would-be wasted food.” In fact, ReFED identified 27 solutions in its 2016 Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste—and if these actions were adopted right now, we could see an immediately 20% reduction food destined for the landfill.

SXSW isn’t waiting to finalize its plan to get started. They’re beginning this year by sending excess food from SouthBites to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), where it will feed hungry people in need.

Austin is an ideal laboratory, with many potential partners. The city government set its own ambitious goal of reaching zero waste by 2040, and government agencies like Austin Resource Recovery and private organizations like Compost Pedallers could be part of their path forward.

We’re looking forward to working with SXSW as they consider what they can do from here, and we can’t wait to see which major conference will be the next to make a commitment.


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