We speak to Foodsteps about the carbon footprint of food from Farm to Fork with Anya Doherty
by Aimee Rigby/12th-July-2020
So, welcome to Zero Waste Kode. Would you like to introduce yourself and Foodsteps?
Absolutely. Great to be here. Thanks for having me. My name is Anya Doherty. I’m the founder and CEO of Foodsteps. I started Foodsteps about two and a half years ago now and we’re all about making it easier for food companies to calculate and reduce the environmental impacts of their food, helping them on the journey to net zero through using data and on our software platform that we’ve built to help them do it.
Fantastic. Yeah. So, could you give us a bit more background about what Foodsteps actually do? So how do you do all this amazing stuff.
So, we have spent the last couple of years really compiling a database on the environmental impacts of food. And that sits behind the Foodsteps platform, which is a place where restaurants, hospitality, food businesses can log on, put in information about their recipes, their food products, and get a carbon score, also get a land use and water use score.
And from there the platform makes it very easy to download our carbon label.
So that’s something we’re really promoting as the next kind of step in the food sustainability journey is for food companies being very transparent about their own environmental impacts and bringing consumers along in that journey with them.
The platform is really a one stop shop for doing all the calculations, but also really
making it easy to set goals and see recommendations and track progress on your food offering to make it more environmentally friendly.
So, what was the journey to creating Foodsteps? And what inspired you to start it?
Yeah, as an undergraduate at university, I actually started off studying biochemistry. So, I’ve always been really interested in sustainability. And I sort of thought I wanted to go down the route of kind of working in labs, and maybe on clean energy or something like that. But in my second year, I actually took a course in environmental sciences. And it was there that I was kind of shocked into just how damaging the food system is on the environment and sort of having this moment of thinking, well we can have all the clean energy we like in the world, but actually, food is still the major driver of biodiversity, a major user of freshwater, it still accounts for a quarter to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, it’s a massive problem, and also one that I think, at least at the time, didn’t really get as much attention as things like transport or clean energy.
And so yeah, that was, that was kind of a moment for me. I did my undergrad in Cambridge, and also did some post grad research there. And it was kind of a case of good timing. So, the university was really pushing their own sustainable food journey. And after I did a couple of years working in the research area, looking at the carbon footprint, land use, food, I actually worked directly for the catering service in Cambridge, and did a big environmental impact assessment of all the food they purchase. So that was really the launch of Foodsteps into the industry, working directly with chefs and catering companies.
My name is Anya Doherty. I’m the founder and CEO of Foodsteps
Amazing. So, can you summarise the relationship between the food we eat and how that contributes to the climate crisis? So, you mentioned it a little bit there. But yeah, can you tell us a little bit more?
Yeah, so I think, there’s quite a serious issue and one that is very complicated, but incredibly urgent. So, as I just mentioned, I mean, one of the main factors is just how much the food system is contributing to climate change. And the best estimates, put it between a quarter and a third of, of global greenhouse gas emissions. And it is a really complicated picture, because you look all the way from farm to fork, and it’s everything from the fertiliser inputs on farms, through to land use changes in the way that we’re kind of converting natural habitat into more farmland all the way from those types of problems through to packaging, processing, transport and distribution. And there was even a really interesting paper that came out recently that said, actually, if you’re eating a baked potato, about 60% of the carbon footprint of that just comes from baking it in the oven.
So, for different foods, it’s really different kind of where in the lifecycle, the impact comes from, and it’s a really complicated picture, just by nature of the fact that food moves all the way from rural farming systems, through to kind of industrial processing and packaging and right on to our table as consumers.
So, it’s not an easy one to kind of, I guess, get your head around. But what it does mean is that there’s lots of opportunities within that whole picture to actually make improvements. And the story is quite similar when you look at other environmental impacts.
So, food and the food system, the major polluter of fresh water, major user of freshwater, leading driver of natural habitat loss and knock on from that is also biodiversity loss.
So, there’s so much to do in such a short amount of time. And I think it’s something which, as I said, at the beginning, was arguably, kind of overlooked when it came to the environmental crisis. It’s very easy to focus on things that we immediately see like the energy we’re using in our houses, or how we’re driving to work. And those things are also very important. But the food system, I think, is often quite hidden from us and something that it’s not easy to really, really imagine the scale at which we’re kind of changing the planet through the production of food.
Definitely, definitely. So, can you tell us how bringing that to show people the impact through the different services you offer? So environmental footprint calculators, which you mentioned, and menu labelling, so how does each service or product you offer work? And how is it made?
That’s a good question. We have three services that we offer.
The first is the Foodsteps platform. And as I said, that’s really the one stop shop for food providers to be able to calculate and see the impacts of their food on a single platform.
From the platform, it makes it really easy to download our carbon footprint labels. So that’s something which can go directly onto products, or also our menus, and posters and things like that.
And then the labels themselves have a QR code on them, which linked to our food story app.
And food story is really a place to engage people more in the narrative behind food and kind of open that window into the journey of the food and how it’s got there, and why it’s important to think about the impact of food on the environment.
So, yeah, each one is a little bit of a steppingstone to the next. Yeah, it all does start with the platform and actually getting your food up there, putting in recipes. Also, working with suppliers, that’s kind of the next phase of the platform is making it very easy for food companies to work together with their suppliers and to undergo impact assessments. Because it’s not something that if you’re kind of right at the end of the line, you can completely do it all on your own. And, so far we’ve had really good feedback from the trials. And it’s kind of going into full launch mode at the moment. And we’ve got the labels out there with universities and a range of food companies, and people using the food story app. So yeah, the three go together in the sense that the platform is really there to drive the change from the business side, and then the labels and food story there to engage consumers in that journey as well. Because it is all about kind of bringing those two ends together in our view.
So, would you would you say it’s more of sort of like inspiring behavioural change rather than like a solution based thing?
So, it’s, it is a bit of both. So, the platform is really focused on driving changes from a business point of view. So, we have recommendations on how to make recipes more sustainable. Even where in the food lifecycle your impacts are coming from. So, if that’s packaging, then recommendations for how to reduce the impact of your packaging. If it’s food waste, then solutions and tools out there, that can help you reduce that. So, that’s really about driving changes from a business point of view, in terms of actual procurement and operations and things of that. And yeah, and then the labels and food story are really focused on behaviour change. I think, ultimately, all of this must come from changing people’s hearts and minds. And when people, as humans, when we want to do something, we’re very good at getting there. And, and a lot of the narrative that we’re hearing from food businesses is that they are driven by what their consumers want, and they can feel that kind of, the importance of that relationship. So, by having the labels and having food story, it is about giving businesses the assurance that their changes are being recognised by their consumers. And also gives consumers the confidence that the businesses that they’re buying from are engaged in this and are actually making some serious commitments and steps.
Cool. Yes. So how can hospitality businesses, , we’ve talked to quite a few sustainable hospitality places on this podcast- how can they take their first step towards climate smart eating?
Yeah, that’s a great question too. In our view, it really is just all about starting with your first look into your impact. So, one of the best things I think about my job, and what our team is doing is it’s so exciting to work with a food company and show them for the first time the impact of the different items on their menu. And it doesn’t have to be a kind of launching; we work with companies that have 1000s of different recipes and food products, and you don’t have to- there’s quite a scary task, if you think, okay, now I’m gonna have to work out, the impact of all of these different products. But I would say just start with something like your 10 most common items, and really take a chance to look back into your supply chain, try and get an understanding of what the impact is- that’s where our platform really I think comes in handy is, it’s a really easy place to kind of get that first look, even if it is just an average score. And you can build on that and improve the specificity later. But I’d say that generally, that’s where we’ve seen all the journeys, that we’ve been going on with Food companies, all of them have started with just five or 10 products, and really committing to looking, , quite deeply into the impact of that. And I think it’s quite addictive. Once you do that, you get quite hooked, and you think, Oh, my gosh, Wow, I didn’t know this about this sandwich that we serve all the time. And I think it makes the food kind of come alive in a different way to how we normally view it. I would very much say, it is about kind of starting with that first window in and not being kind of overwhelmed by the fact that it is a comprehensive picture, you might have 1000s of food items. But just starting somewhere is always, always the best way we think.
Fantastic. Yeah, that’s really good advice. So finally, where can our listeners find out more about Foodsteps and get in touch if they would like to?
Yeah, please do we’d absolutely love to hear from anyone who’s interested in going on the journey. And so yeah, our website is www.foodsteps.earth and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And yeah, we’d be, as I said, absolutely thrilled to hear from anyone who is looking to reduce the environmental impacts of their food. And do things like put carbon labels on their menus and food items.
Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
Thank you so much for having me. And yeah, thanks again.