A better food system starts with a vision. In his podcast series Food Lab Talk, Google’s Vice President of Workplace Programs, REWS, Michiel Bakker, interviews inspiring changemakers who are working at the forefront of our most pressing food system challenges. Each month, Food Inspiration highlights one of these visionaries. Food Lab Talk’s first season focuses on reducing loss and waste in the food system, and features Dana Gunders, Executive Director of ReFED. 

It’s  estimated that 35% of food in the U.S. is unsold or uneaten, and most of that goes to waste. This presents a substantial challenge to food security and environmental sustainability. If food waste were a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gasses. ReFED is a U.S.-based non-profit that advances data-driven solutions to help train, inspire, and strategize around food waste reduction. By taking a holistic view of the food system, and focused, purposeful action, ReFED is working to achieve a 50% food waste reduction in accordance with the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

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Dana Gunders has worked on the topic of food waste for well over a decade. In 2012 she published a paper that outlined how up to 40% of food in the U.S. ended up in landfills. She is also the author of the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook. “Food waste is just the dumbest problem out there, and one that is so solvable. I think we look at climate change and it feels so big and daunting, but wasting food is not. Wasting less food is not rocket science. It’s something we all can do, we have control over and it feels very much within our reach and I think that helps keep me motivated.”

“Ten years ago food waste was not even part of the discussion when talking about moving to a more sustainable food system. Now it is part of every sustainable strategy.”

ReFED’s approach

If you think of a hub and spoke model, ReFED is at the center in support of all stakeholders – whether they are major food businesses, capital providers, academia, government or entrepreneurs – that focus their efforts on having a greater collective impact. Dana notes: “We really see ourselves as a field catalyst organization, trying to advance the whole movement around wasting less food.” 

The ReFED approach focuses primarily on four different pillars:

  • Providing data and insights, e.g. with ReFED's Insights Engine

  • Bringing more capital into the food waste space to promote innovation

  • Creating collective impact by building out an ecosystem that will mobilize and connect people

  • Supporting business initiatives by creating tools and leverage information and expertise

ReFED Catalytic Grant Fund

One of ReFEDs core pillars is to try and bring additional capital into the food waste space. The ReFED Catalytic Grant Fund is a new initiative that’s providing non-profit and for-profit organizations with recoverable and non-recoverable grants to de-risk and scale high-impact solutions to food waste. Dana articulates: “During the first open call ReFED received 280 submissions, covering 99 million dollars worth of requests. That drastically exceeds the 20 million dollars we seek to raise. It just gives an idea for just how much need and opportunity there is for capital.”

Motivating individuals and organizations

“Today, one of the most powerful motivators to tackle food waste is its undeniable impact on our climate, and also the impact that it has on our biodiversity. A recent paper estimated that biodiversity loss could be reduced by 17% by cutting our food loss and waste. That makes people think of what they can do better in their own lives and in their businesses as well. And also, from a practical standpoint, in the light of the current price raises, looking into food waste is more rewarding than ever.”

Food Lab Talk seasons two and three: looking for changemakers!

The team at Food Lab Talk would love your help crowd-sourcing fascinating people from all corners of the world. Behind the scenes, work has already begun on Food Lab Talk seasons two and three, which will focus on the topics of "shifting to more plant-based diets" and "enabling individuals to make better personal food choices." 

If you know of any changemaker or thought leader that deserves to be featured, please share your ideas, by filling in this form »