The root of the UK’s food waste success story - Courtauld

Dr Liz Goodwin

There’s something humbling about seeing a tree which you know carries a story. Fortingall churchyard in Perthshire for example, is home to the famous Fortingall Yew – and at over 3,000 years old, is thought to be the oldest living thing in Britain. It’s amazing to think how many people have come to pass it in their time. 

Just like the apple tree that grew in my Mother’s garden, it was there before me, remained there till after we’d moved on, and may still be there to this very day. For me, the tree in the garden I knew as I was growing up, was something to climb; something that provided a fresh tasty treat; or something that I could sit under and lean against with a book on my lap under the shade. For my step-grandfather who wrote books on plants, I’m sure that tree meant something entirely different.

Trees provide a stable fixture of the wider landscape. They can grow, change shape, change colour with the seasons, and flourish.

I was speaking with some of WRAP’s stakeholders recently about WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment and what it means for people in the industry. I’ve heard numerous comments, but there’s one view shared by many that has really stuck in my mind. That is, that what makes the Courtauld Commitment so special, is that it’s provided that stable fixture for the wider food industry’s landscape. Whilst Governments and their priorities have changed over the years - shifting their focus – the Courtauld Commitment has offered continuity. Providing a consistent objective – to reduce waste and save people, businesses and local authorities money.

And like a tree – the Courtauld Commitment has grown. From being solely about reducing waste, the next chapter, Courtauld 2025, promises to completely re-think the way we value food – to turn over a new leaf, if you will. It’s also branched out – it’s now tackling new areas – waste water, pre-farm gate, and the hospitality sector are now also under its remit.

The Courtauld Commitment has much to answer for in terms of reducing waste, and this is something I will always be proud of. In the first phase of the four year period, 1.2 million tonnes of food and packaging waste was prevented, saving £1.8 billion. The carbon emissions associated, would be equal to half a million round-the-world flights. And then, in the second phase which was just two years, 1.7 million tonnes of waste was reduced. This saved businesses over £3 billion and reduced about 4.8 million tonnes of CO2e.

The next stage of the Courtauld Commitment isn’t a short term commitment, it’s something designed for the long-haul. Our previous Commitments have achieved much, so just imagine what we can achieve together during the course of ten years.

For me, having signatories such as Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda verifies a number of things. Firstly, that since 2005, when we first embarked on this journey, we have won over the trust of our industry partners. Committing to a ten year agreement, isn’t just something you can say ‘yes’ to on a whim – it’s something that warrants real faith. Secondly, if there was ever a way to show how dedicated you are to a cause, then this is a true testament. Words will only get you so far – Courtauld is about delivering real action.

I’ve been the CEO of WRAP for nine tremendous years. But, as the outgoing leader of WRAP, what I find promising, is that leaders are signing up, knowing this will continue after their time. After all, the typical tenure of a CEO is between seven to ten years. So, as they take on the Courtauld Commitment, they do so knowing this will become integral to the organisation they work for - now, and for the future, and will remain a stable fixture after their departure.

Courtauld 2025 will be a legacy for many leaders, including myself. And just as I took a leap of faith joining WRAP, back in 2001, I am immensely grateful that leaders from across the supply chain, are also taking a leap of faith – a leap of faith in WRAP, and to our vision of reducing food & drink resource use by one-fifth.

We started working with just retailers on short term commitments. Now we’re working across the whole supply chain, with long term goals. And as the saying goes, from tiny acorns grow mighty trees.