Maria Ana Neves FRSA helps to run Plan Zheroes, a citizen-led food intitative saving food that would normally be wasted. She blogs here about the initiative:
The Big Idea: inspiring food businesses to give their surplus food to those who need it so that it never goes to waste.
The vision for Plan Zheroes: the Zero Food Waste Heroes was simple — one day no good food will go to waste. I truly believed it was a no-brainer, so we (Chris Wilkie, Lotti Henley and myself) gave it everything we had: time, skills, networks and enthusiasm to make it happen. It didn't quite go to plan, for reasons I will explain later.
Plan Zheroes’ aim is to inspire and connect food businesses with local charities to give surplus food to people who need it. Provoked by figures published in 2009 that the UK food retail industry sends 1.6 million tonnes of surplus food to landfill every year, and that there are 4 million people in the UK living below the breadline, we believed there must be a better way!
The starting point: from no-brainer to complexity!
Learning from existing “zero-food-waste-heroes” like Pret-A-Manger, community groups and Fareshare, we quickly discovered how complex it is: there are too many types of food businesses (from restaurants to schools), too many kinds of food and too many types of charities - all with varying facilities.
Provoked by figures published in 2009 that the UK food retail industry sends 1.6 million tonnes of surplus food to landfill every year and with 4 million people in the UK living below the breadline, we believed there must be a better way!
Whether there will be surplus food available is always unpredictable and we had to address the biggest of all myths: that health and safety means you can't give food away!
Looking through such complexity, we had a breakthrough insight: to create an online map. If businesses and charities created profiles with their requirements, we could help them find the perfect match! That gave us a window of opportunity to use the human qualities that are often neglected: “match making” and “gossip” to start a mission of building shared value communities.
How RSA Catalyst made a difference
We didn’t start Plan Zheroes with an enterprise in mind, just a vision to solve a problem. The RSA Catalyst funding we were awarded helped make the Plan Zheroes online map, and also to find expertise among Fellows (like Tony Mitchell, Steve Coles and Marcus Jameson-Pond to name a few). Through Catalyst we had the opportunity to test, and invest in, our inspiring idea – without the constraints of needing to create a business. The Catalyst award boosted my confidence in the project, and the application process was incredibly useful in helping articulate what we were trying to achieve.
The first phase of Plan Zheroes is rooted in the belief that anything is possible and we, as inspired citizens can change the world!
Later, being part of the Social Enterprise Spotlight initiative really supported the journey of Plan Zheroes. We went from being a flat, unstructured and sometimes chaotic project (though driven by immense enthusiasm) to becoming well-resourced and structured, and are now about to become a charitable incorporated organisation (the new form of charity). To grow and achieve our mission we needed to have governance structures in place, a permanent team (it's been run by volunteers up until this stage), and an office to resource our activities. Winston Churchill recognised this need in one of my favourite quotations: “We make a living with what we do, and we make a life with what we give”. I’ve learned we need to have both.
So why do it, and who wants to do it?
Emerging research shows that many people in the UK are finding it difficult to afford sufficient food to feed themselves and their families: 18% of the UK population is living in food poverty. Families are trapped into making “eat or heat” choices. At the same time, the Sustainable Restaurants Association (SRA) research shows that consumers’ top agenda is food waste, and even employees are increasingly sensitive to the CSR policies.
Plan Zheroes is being asked to help more charities (who now face increasing numbers of clients and decreasing funding from government) from the Salvation Army, to British Red Cross Refugee Centres, to community initiatives. We have also been approached by businesses, including prestigious hotels in London and food chains like Le Pain Quotidien.
In April 2013, Plan Zheroes was commissioned to create a direct portal for citizens in real need of food. Plan Zheroes joined the Hospitality and Food Services Waste Reduction volunteer agreement launched by WRAP one year ago, and our involvement is two-fold: to better understand larger organisations' challenges and to influence decision makers to consider the positive impact surplus food can have in society, in the same way they consider financial and environmental gains. We have even been contacted by New Zealand to help launch a national scheme to divert surplus food to charities. We are strengthening our alliances with trade organisations such as the Institute of Hospitality and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and we see this as a key factor of success.
So what next? And what do we need?
Since January we have been working hard on the best way to develop. Some of things we have achieved are:
- defining our business plan
- initiating the Charity Incorporation
- a redesign of the new website, map and tools (we hope to launch in September)
- putting good volunteer management practice into place
There are still some things we need to work on. We are desperate for an excellent fundraiser (who thinks vertically and latterly with an open mind) and office space. We also need a good board of Trustees – with experience and time to advise on issues ranging across finance, PR/campaigning, new technologies, building communities, and who are very good at influencing at a high level.
The first phase of Plan Zheroes is rooted in the belief that anything is possible and we, as inspired citizens can change the world! The present phase of Plan Zheroes made me understand there is also a danger of being too open and I've learned the value in setting up boundaries so we are ready for what can happen today, especially when it is not just positive!
If you'd like to help with the Plan Zheroes' mission to achieve zero food waste and zero food hunger, get in touch. We'd love to hear from you.
Maria Ana Neves
Plan Zheroes: Food Waste Hero