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Case Study: The Origins of FareShare

In this video, we from Paul Bowtell, who helped start FareShare. They save food destined for waste and transform it into meals for those in need.
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So we’re talking about a time when I used to work for Sainsbury’s. So it’s 20 odd years ago, 1995, and I arrived as their Environmental Projects Manager and my job was to take the ideas that came up and make them happen. And they’d been looking at waste, they’d been thinking ‘well what have we got, can we do something else with it, recycle it, reuse it, etc?’ And a student, James McKechnie, who still works as an environmentalist, he had identified there was an awful lot of waste product, food etc. About a retail value of a million pounds a week was disappearing into holes in the ground which Sainsbury’s would have to pay for to have taken away to be disposed of.
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So it was what can we do, can we do something different with that? And my job was to try and have a look and see what the alternatives were. We needed to look at picking up from a range of places so that then the charities would come to that central point and then they could shop if you like, a shop for charities. We looked at different options and Crisis, which was the charity, the homeless charity, were just beginning to start this and they were the really only ones who really wanted to go national, and to try this national, because we want to have something we could do the same thing in every store.
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We had to get buy-in within Sainsbury’s generally to allow this to happen and that was quite hard. There was quite a ‘we don’t have this problem’, head in the sand, for a variety of cultural reasons. And at store level when you talk about how much waste have you got, because it was seen as a bad thing they often would blindly say ‘no I don’t have a problem’ while standing in front of a big pile of cakes about to go in the bin. So there was internally quite a lot of stake buy-in we had to get from various board directors, from the store management that this wasn’t going to distract people from doing the day-to-day job of selling baked beans, whatever.
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That wasn’t so hard and I recruited the store operations team, got behind it quite quickly, and they seconded a manager who’s close to retirement so he knew and could talk to managers in their own language. He understood the problems and manning and all of the rest of it and that helped us gain a lot traction.
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So we did a lot of pilots, we did a lot of trials in different areas just to make sure we understood and that was a great learning curve in terms of the charity had to understand, yep, they needed to turn up on time. Back of a store is a bit like Heathrow, you have a certain slot you got to meet it, if you don’t meet it that’s it, there’s another big 44 tonner coming in. They turned up on time, they were badged, so our people knew they were genuine, they weren’t just trying it on, and that they were quick and that it was provided for them in a proper way so it was sorted.
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All of that learning practical real nuts and bolts stuff that you have to go through to make what’s an idea actual reality. And the successes were just where you suddenly got managers who had been resistant turning around after being on a trial or being put on the scheme and turning around within weeks going ‘oh actually, no I got this now and I’m putting more time into it and I’m making sure they’re seeing the benefit’ because people were looking at it harder they were checking their dates a bit more so they weren’t wasting as much and what was being wasted was going to a good cause, so it was win-win-win all the way round.
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My learning really was the whole thing around homelessness and how people end up on the street and really just awakening of the fact that this isn’t a choice.
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You need to understand the company culture you’re in, different company cultures will respond to different things at different times depending on your board, your CEO, what’s happened to that place, so you need to have in your armory if you like you he need to have arguments on different levels you need to have the financial argument very well this makes sense money-wise, you need to have the if you like the HR social side, well look if we do this our people will waste less time or whatever or they’ll feel happier and stay longer, less recruitment, less cost.
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There’s the doing good locally, if we do this we will be seen to be a good local partner, a business you want to come and work for. Having that series of arguments you need to know because there will be different people that are switched on by those different aspects that you need to come on your side. To me one of the the best sort of fits if you like a win-win-win, you win environmentally, you’re not going to get in the ground, you win financially because you’ve reduced your waste costs, and you win socially because you’ve given something to people who’ve got so little, so, fantastic.
FareShare is an organisation dedicated to saving “good food destined for waste and send[ing] it to charities and community groups who transform it into nutritious meals for vulnerable people”. In this video, we from Paul Bowtell, who was instrumental in founding FareShare.

Paul Bowtell is a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) and full member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (MIEMA).

Working within and beyond industry, Paul identifies ways that companies can work to improve both their sustainability practice and engagement with local communities. He addresses risks and opportunities, and helps to develop strategies and policy with those involved.

In this case study, we see how Paul was instrumental in transforming UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s approach to food waste. When Paul worked for Sainsbury’s in the 1990s, he took his experience in environmental consulting and applied it to Sainsbury’s food waste issue. His job was to investigate ways to mitigate the costs and problems caused by food waste in the context of customer demands for food variety. The sector as a whole faced similar issues, so Paul was able to learn from other companies and see which options would work best for Sainsbury’s. Working with the charity partner Crisis to train staff on the operational aspects of access to and collection of food also taught Paul more about homelessness. He gained a greater understanding of the issues that cause and arise from the lack of a stable home.

Sainsbury’s and Crisis are two groups with different operational skills and expectations that required different types of management, and this work eventually led to the formation of FareShare.

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