Food Waste, Sustainability, and the Corporate Sector: Case Study of a U.S. Food Company

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Food waste has emerged as one of the world's most critical issues, as record levels of food waste have resulted in negative outcomes for food security, land use, and methane production associated with climate change. As key institutions in the world's food system, retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers have taken steps to reduce food waste. Yet, while food corporations promote their food waste programs as part of their broader green sustainability initiatives, it is unclear how and why they have developed these initiatives. To fill this research gap, this study examines a US company's food waste reduction programs as a case study. To this end, this study utilises interview data of key stakeholders to examine the ways that food waste is produced, regulated, and reused by food corporations. Research findings point to some positive outcomes, such as the transformation of food waste into alternative energy and increased efficiency in food donation systems. Yet, these positive outcomes may be overshadowed by corporate priorities which privilege profitability, brand enhancement, and short-term high-visibility solutions. This research highlights that the broad and somewhat diffuse definition of sustainability may allow corporations to highlight narrow, company-specific technical fixes rather than do the hard work associated with reducing food waste in their supply chains. Moreover, data suggest that many food corporations use the sustainability trope as a way to ensure that they are recognised as legitimate, ethical, and profitable companies. Thus, while some argue that sustainable development institutionalises important environmental practices into the market, evidence from this study suggests that these corporate practices may be evidence of neoliberal environmental governance which is determined by market logics rather than environmental or social justice. In this way, corporate profitability determines how sustainability is defined, when and where sustainability is implemented, and how sustainability is to be measured.



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