When we think about food waste, we don’t directly associate it with social innovation. However, it is possible to create big and impactful social innovation projects around reducing food waste. We are convinced that reducing food loss and waste can generate a triple win: for the economy, for food security and for the environment. In addition to prevention, there are many other points and more and more of us are encouraging the reduction of food waste through new methods of revaluing unsold goods that match circular economy principles. In order to add value to what we do, Rethink2gether is a sustainability consulting company currently exploring new ideas that move in that direction.
What is [Rethink2gether] about?
Rethink2gether is a sustainability consulting company focused on food waste prevention and the revalorization of unsold food that can still be consumed using the principles of the circular economy.
Our mission is to help and inspire event organizers, food businesses and public authorities to view food as too valuable to waste, supporting them to make smarter decisions.
We propose 3 different services:
– MEASURE: We quantify food waste and identify potential savings, using manual or digital tools in line with international standards.
– IMPROVE: We help our clients understand their path towards Zero Food Waste, benchmarking best practices locally and around the world.
– ENGAGE: We help our clients make a positive impact on their community, thanks to staff training, workshops and online surveys. We involve all stakeholders for an efficient action plan.
Why did you start this social innovation?
The City of Vancouver plans to become Zero Waste in 2040 so we saw an opportunity.
According to a Canada-wide study conducted by Second Harvest in 2019, 58% of the food produced is wasted, and avoidable food waste is worth $49 billion in Canada. This makes no sense when 1 person in 9 in Vancouver is food insecure.
On top of that, reducing food waste is the single most powerful solution in the fight against climate change. More powerful than solar panels, electric cars or airplanes. According to the United Nations, if food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd-largest greenhouse gas emitter, after China and the US.
So we thought it was too big of a challenge to just sit back and do nothing. We decided to start our social innovation project as the company owners of Rethink2gether and developed the WOW (Work On Waste) project with local food businesses and public authorities.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
We both hold master’s degrees in environmental management, with complementary profiles (engineering and business & communication). We are both food waste experts, with more than 10 years’ experience in the food industry and sustainability, in Europe and North America.
In terms of food waste management, Vancouver is ahead of Europe, as households and businesses have been required to compost their organic waste since 2015. However, there are many opportunities to work on food waste prevention. And we have been inspired by European organizations proposing similar services.
Food businesses want to reduce food costs. And more and more need experts to co-create creative and efficient solutions aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s how the idea arose and how Rethink2gether started.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
We both have experience in business development. However, we were initially afraid of creating a company in Canada, as we are both originally from France, and we have only been living in Vancouver for around 2 years.
Fortunately, we had the opportunity to have an amazing business coach from the Société de développement économique de la Colombie-Britannique (SDECB): an organization helping francophone entrepreneurs develop and achieve their professional project in British Columbia.
We were also chosen to be part of a Business Plan Writing Circle, a program provided by DIVERSEcity for immigrant entrepreneurs. They provided us with a lot of helpful resources to go further in our business plan, pitch and offers.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your business from zero?)
Everything started like in a love story. We first met in 2015, at a friend’s wedding in Belgium. We then realized that we were both from Alsace (North-East of France), were both living in Brussels, and were both working in sustainability consulting (for different companies)…a lot of coincidences. So we connected on LinkedIn.
In 2018, when Ben arrived in Canada, he wanted to work for a certified B Corp company in the food sector. Ben then looked on LinkedIn for opportunities at SPUD.CA, the lowest-waste grocery store in Canada. He realized Laure was also in Vancouver and already working for SPUD (as a Team Lead in one of their Be Fresh coffee shops). So we met to have a drink and catch up since the wedding. A few weeks later, Ben got a job as Coordinator for the online retail part of SPUD, another common thread halfway around the world. This time we were working for the same B Corp, but in different locations.
After meeting and discussing food waste solutions, we became closer and decided to use our food waste expertise with Rethink2gether. That was like the evidence. Things developed naturally and since then we have been inspiring each other with new ideas and solutions to reduce food waste. We are convinced of the importance of reducing food waste on both the business side and the individual side and we aim to be part of the solution. We are also passionate about solutions that lead to zero waste and we aim to develop our expertise in this direction.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
We have used different methods to attract public attention to the issue of food waste and our potential to be part of the solution.
First, we conducted a food waste survey in Vancouver, among hotels, restaurants and coffee shops. This enabled us to present our services, grow our local network and gather local data and best practices.
We also organized a Zero Food Waste Event. We then had the screening of a local documentary around food waste (‘Just Eat It‘) followed by a panel discussion with experts including a councillor from the City of Vancouver, a chef cooking with rescued food, a food recovery platform and a company making juices with rejected produce. The event was a success, with 80 people in attendance.
We are also empowering the community: not only student organizations (offering our expertise as speakers or mentors) but also the general public (talking about food waste on the radio, or leading participatory workshops at festivals and events).
Finally, we continue to meet various stakeholders fighting food waste and climate change: representatives of cities, business owners and associations. We are principally involved in the Waste Working Group of the Vancouver Food Policy Council.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
First of all, we realized there was a business case for working on food waste. In 2019, the World Resources Institute conducted a survey among 114 restaurants in 12 countries. On average, a business investing $1 in food waste prevention will get back $7 after 3 years.
Rethink2gether has also conducted a food waste survey in Vancouver. Some of the hotels that took part generate more than 400 lbs of food waste per day. So there are big opportunities to save food and money at the same time.
On top of that, the City of Vancouver has recently approved a long-term strategic vision to achieve the goal of Zero Waste by 2040. Vancouver is aiming to become a leading city in food waste prevention. This will impact on how food businesses operate, including retailers, hotels, events and restaurants.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?
Creating events is one of the ways in which we raised money and engaged with local businesses and the local community.
We are also exploring current funding opportunities, from either the government or organizations like Small Business BC.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
We have more than 10 years’ experience in the food industry, but Rethink2gether is a recent company in Vancouver. So we are still on our way to scaling our social innovation.
One thing we found essential was to develop our local network. This includes like-minded businesses and impact-oriented organizations. It is also powerful to be involved with both businesses and public authorities, especially when your social innovation is aligned with a Sustainable Development Goal.
Another tip would be to keep learning about business creation. That’s what we are doing as part of the Business Plan Writing Circle for immigrant entrepreneurs. Ben has also just started a part-time Executive MBA, to strengthen Rethink2gether.
How do you change the whole system?
We can’t change the whole system, but we believe we can use business as a force for good. We focus on positive solutions for one part of the system we want to change (food waste).
We think global and act local.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
If you are reading those words, you are very likely to be dreaming of a better world.
Our advice would be to set SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. A goal is a dream with a deadline.
And if your dreams do not scare you, dream bigger.
Ben is an engineer from AgroParisTech, one of the best universities in the world specializing in food and environmental sciences. He has over 8 years’ international experience in sustainability in various industries, including consulting, retail and hospitality. Ben’s expertise lies in food waste reduction. He has piloted the Food Loss & Waste Protocol: an international standard to harmonize measurements among companies, countries and cities all over the world. He’s now the Co-Founder of Rethink2gether.
Laure holds a master’s degree in environmental science and a master in business and communication. She has over 5 years’ experience of implementing efficient environmental management systems, namely for food businesses and the events and creative industry. Laure’s expertise lies in food waste prevention and the circular economy. She has also supported local governments in implementing sustainable food policies, such as the Good Food Strategy in Brussels (Belgium). She’s now the Co-Founder of Rethink2gether.
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