How Much Cash Are You Throwing In The Trash?
By Benjamin Lephilibert Founder, LightBlue Environmental Consulting | May 13, 2018
Co-authored by Chris Oestereich, Director of the ASEAN Social Innovation Review, Thammasat University School of Global Studies
Imagine the following scenario. You're at a conference for hotel executives and the speaker asks you to take out your phone and perform a calculation based on the average number of monthly covers served on your property. He tells you to take that number and multiply it by twelve, divide it by three, and then multiply by five. He then asks you to raise your hand if your answer is greater than 200,000. (Every hand goes up.) He then says to keep your hand up if the number is above 500,000. (Many hands go down, but a solid contingent of raised hands remains.)
He then explains what they've done. "I just asked you to take your monthly covers and multiply that by twelve to get an annual figure. You divided it by three to get to an estimate of the total kilograms of wasted food, and then you multiplied that figure by five to estimate a dollar figure for your property's annual food waste. Now, please put your hand back up if you think the figure you calculated is a realistic estimate of your food waste. (Zero hands go up.) Okay. Please raise your hand if you think your food waste is less than ¼ of the figure. (Most of the people in the room raise their hand.)"
This scenario has played out with similar results across boardrooms and banquet centers. Given the chance to calculate a rough estimate of their waste, hotel executives reflexively deny the possibility that their food waste could be so significant or that they could even be performing anywhere near the average. (Even though they've typically made no effort to compete on this front.) In doing so, these leaders tend to miss the mark by an order of magnitude. So, when they think it's one to two hundred kilograms per day, we've learned to expect the measured amount to be around a thousand.
When we actually go in to measure it and share the results, they still tend not to believe it. Then we show them the waste and the conversation changes as they begin to understand and accept the problem. (It's hard to ignore a day's worth of food waste when it's piled up in front of you.) Once you get to that point, building commitment for change is easier, as the problem that was hidden in plain sight can no longer be ignored. But working to gain the support necessary for success doesn't end there, and why is it so hard to get to that point?
Food waste is often seen as either nonexistent (that's where the conversation typically starts), or as a necessary evil (that's where it often shifts to once it's been proven to exist). But neither of these are ever the full story. Properties that take food waste seriously know that it occurs, and even when they're doing a good job of avoiding and diverting it, they know there are always ways in which they can improve. While at the other end of the spectrum, it sometimes seems there's a bit of a Dunning-Kruger Effect in play, wherein those who haven't really jumped into this work believe they've already mastered it.