Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Topic: Uncategorised

The scandal of food waste - will measuring more help us waste less?

📥  Uncategorised



We live in an age of paradox. On the one hand, over 795 million people around the world are under-nourished. On the other hand, issues associated with excess edible food waste are causing an environmental, social and economic crisis. In this piece, PhD student Mehrnaz Tajmir considers whether we need to take a different approach to measuring and therefore reducing food waste throughout the supply chain.


Levels of food waste

Reports have shown that over a third of the world’s food produce is never consumed, causing a staggering $400 billion loss per year for the global food supply chain. The edible food discarded by supermarkets and consumers in developed countries in a single year would exceed the amount required to end world hunger. Evidently, this issue will only worsen as the global population increases. In fact, estimates have shown that as the global middle class expands, by the year 2030, the financial losses of food waste will increase to up to $600 billion per year.

Environmentally, food waste is a great contributor to global warming due to its high quantities of greenhouse gas emissions (such as methane and carbon dioxide). The current global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by food waste in landfill is estimated at 3.3 billion metric tons,  or about 7% of the global emissions. To put this in perspective, the United Nations agency has stated that the amount of methane gas produced from the global food landfill is more than the cumulative GHG emissions of China and the United States.

The environmental toll of food waste is also reflected in water and land pollution. This is due to industry’s excessive use of fertilisers as well as deforestation for cattle grazing and farming. Food packaging, transportation and storage also contribute to carbon footprints of food production. This irreversible environmental damage will be costly for the planet as well as for humans if no action is taken to improve the current state of the food industry.


The role of supermarkets

Our research here at the University of Bath focuses on developed countries. We are looking at the main features of the food supply chain and more specifically, the causes of food waste in the UK. So far, we have found that within this complex system, major supermarkets are the focal point. They influence the way we buy and consume produce as well as having an impact downstream at farm level. However, despite their influential role, large supermarkets themselves are only directly responsible for less than 1% of food waste in the UK, claiming to be running more efficiently than even before. This is due to both internal and external strict policies regarding environmental footprint of waste and its social impacts. Hence, there is a general assumption that corporates have either achieved or are moving towards their optimum sustainable performance. The message is that the current level of waste generated by the supermarkets, taking into account the available technology, cannot be further reduced.

Conversely, in academia the study of waste from the operations and organisations perspective has shown certain trade-offs in the application of sustainable strategies. In other words, to gain economic advantage, corporates might overlook their social and environmental impacts. So, are the current waste strategies sufficient or is there more action still required? And how can corporates improve their non-avoidable waste across the entire supply chain?


CSR and supply chains

We believe that incorporating principles of corporate social responsibility and sustainability into waste strategies could help to turn waste into value. If all actors in a supply chain took a shared responsibility for measurable waste throughout the chain, and aligned their metrics, it would be easier to identify where waste is happening and to take action to prevent it. As major players in the supply chain, supermarkets could impact the level of waste generation in the entire chain rather than focusing on the performance at shop level. Moreover, through lowering waste across the supply chain, we can also consider the optimisation of performance levels in much broader terms to incorporate environmental footprints, social impacts and economic savings.

Our research is at an early stage. However we hope to generate a case study to investigate the effects of corporate social responsibility in alignment of waste metrics between two organisations and its impact on waste reduction. Then using this we could simulate the data and estimate larger impacts on the network level.

The issue of food waste cannot be resolved with one solution as the supply chains and relationships involved are so complex. A collective effort is required to create more coordinated supply chains through implementation of sustainable practices between supply chain members. At the same time, organisations must continue to actively educate customers on ways to avoid food waste through more informative packaging and storage instruction. Then and only then can we move towards a greener future.


Mehrnaz Tajmir is a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Bath. She is currently in the first year of her PhD at the University of Bath School of Management.


Image: US Department of Agriculture


Public reasoning and the public intellectual

  , , , , , ,

📥  Brexit, Business and society, Education, Uncategorised


In our post-truth times, we are in need, more than ever, of public intellectuals. Sadly, we recently lost one of our own most spirited and courageous free thinkers in the business and society field, Malcolm McIntosh, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Management. Malcolm passed away on 7th June 2017 after a long battle with cancer. In this extract from his forthcoming book, In Search of the Good Society, he speaks of the need for elites such as academics and other experts to reengage meaningfully with society in order to address the world's most pressing social and environmental problems. We shall greatly miss not having Malcolm with us on that journey, but his words shall remain a touchstone. 

We have challenges that must be considered carefully and tackled with quiet and earnest intent: reforming the global financial system to bring it back within our control; developing economies that nurture, rather that destroy our natural capital; managing the development of biotechnology such that it provides solutions, and does not create problems; keeping control of AI, such that, as with the development of writing and printing, we know where we are going and have some control; and, turning our media tech companies into responsible publishers so that they are subject to the sort of social controls that govern our print media and daily libel and slander laws. If democracy is to work, and be more of a viable option for the 50% who don’t currently have it, it must be based on what Edmund Burke, and more recently Amartya Sen, call ‘public reasoning’. Burke said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ - and in this time fake news and ‘alternative facts’.

This requires the empowerment of what Pierre Bourdieu, and more recently Edward Said, call ‘the public intellectual’ who through clear public engagement restore the role of the expert and dispel the propagandists that populated the Nazi regime and drive the Trump administration and the Brexiteers. Those who voted nihilistically against those they thought to be the elite, who were the elite, must be engaged so that they can see the wholeness of society, both locally and globally, or we are doomed. Rather than coasting on our laurels we must reengage with everyone, everywhere. We must win the argument with reason.

This ‘high-opportunity, high-risk’ society is open to everyone, but also only those who have access to education and free information. As Antony Giddens says: ‘knowledge and innovation always cut both ways’. The future does not lie with nativism or isolationism. Indeed such moves defy the tide of history, the interdependent nature of all our lives, what we now know about the science of the planet, and what Karl Jung called our collective unconscious which holds the soul of humanity. At the heart of the good society should be an understanding of what Jung called instinct, for these aspects are central to what it means to be human: hunger, sexuality, activity, reflection, and creativity. And I count both art and science as forms of creativity.

Globalisation, like trade and capitalism its bedfellows, is not dead, it just needs reforming. This is not a binary, it has to be nuanced. A balance must be found on a global basis to forge what Sen calls a ‘democratic global state’ through public reasoning. The forces of financialisation, social media and consumption are out of control and have formed a model of AI such that we are beholden to their algorithmic vicissitudes. As Angus Deaton, 2016 Nobel prize winning economist, has said: ‘I don’t think globalisation is anywhere near the threat that robots are . . . globalisation for me seems to be not first-order harm and I find it very hard not to think about the billion people who have been pulled out of poverty as a result’. Deaton and his wife Anne Case have explained through enormously useful and detailed megadata trawling both the Brexit and the Trump votes: the ruling elites have been completely out of touch with white working class people. For instance, Deaton and Case highlighted the fact that the only demographic group to decline over the last fifteen years in America, because of ‘deaths of despair’, were white, poorly educated, working class men.

This is the same group that in the UK and the US have not only seen zero social mobility, but where the bottom 10% have gone backwards – they are poorer now than they were before. In the US they are now in the same position as the African-American population have always been. Just as it took the Babbage Report in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire a hundred years ago to highlight the appalling toll of poor sewage and the need for clean water so this may be a time for the elites, that’s you and me, to take a look at what really matters for everyone – at the top and the bottom of society. China and parts of Africa continue to pull people up over the poverty line, while the UK, the USA and India continue to oppress working people. Japan and most of Scandinavia have virtually eliminated extreme poverty, while parts of Europe, such as the UK, seem to lack empathy for those who suffer most. In the UK this group voted for Brexit, and in the USA for Trump. In both cases fear and ignorance triumphed. The answer is not xenophobia led by elitists (Trump and the Brexit leadership - Gove, Johnson and Farage – all of whom are rich with elite backgrounds). And the groups that voted for Trump and Brexit shot themselves in the foot, like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It is not too late. All the statistics prove that globally we have made good progress over the last seventy years and we will look back and see that 2016 was a moment to take a deep breath and ask what went wrong, and then move forward again. The megalomaniacs, the greedy, those lacking in empathy and many corporate interests will always try to take over, but just as meerkats and bonobos run on cooperation so the best of humanity has been when we collaborate and cooperate. We must work for a feminised future not an avaricious masculine past. The future is liberal, collective and progressive but it requires us not to walk past on the other side or hide in a dark room listening to Beethoven with our headphones on until the world blows over. Art may be the best way forward, for it is through artistic expression in different dimensions that we can see the world afresh.


This is an excerpt from In Search of the Good Society by Malcolm McIntosh, which will be published by Routledge on 26th October 2017.