Sharing for the greater good

Tessa Clarke is a social entrepreneur attempting to solve an enormous problem – food waste.

| 6 min read

There’s a revolution underway that’s going to make the digital revolution look like a walk in the park – the sustainability revolution. We’re still in its very early days, but once fully unleashed it will force us to completely rethink not only our business models, but also some of the fundamentals of capitalism.

Endless growth in a resource-constrained world will be consigned to the dustbin of history; as will the concept of shareholder primacy above all others. A net effect will be that the concept of profit with purpose – which is currently seen as a ‘nice to have’ - is going to move out of the shadows into centre stage. And as with the digital revolution before it, it will be the entrepreneurs, not the incumbents, who lead the way.

Whilst there’s no shortage of climate and biodiversity data to demonstrate the inevitability of the sustainability revolution, what’s remarkably overlooked is the resource depletion data.

This is best demonstrated by the concept of “Earth Overshoot Day” – which is the day in the year in which humanity has used up all the resources that the earth can replenish in a year. It’s calculated annually by the non-profit Global Footprint Network, using data primarily from the United Nations, and the resources it’s talking about include trees that have been cut down faster than nature can regrow; the depletion of our fish stocks in the oceans; and the production of CO2 emissions that far exceed the planet’s capacity to absorb it.

Back in the late Sixties and early Seventies, when it was first measured, Earth Overshoot Day was the 31st December, which means that humanity broadly lived in equilibrium with the planet. However fast forward to 2019, and Earth Overshoot Day was 29 July. Without wanting to labour the point too much, what this means is that every single thing, that every single one of us 7.5bn people consumed after 29th July last year was net depletive to the planet.

Now please just pause a minute, and let the enormity of that truly, truly sink in… Another way of cutting the data is to ask: “How many planets would we need if everyone lived like a typical American?” And the answer is 5. And if we all lived like a typical European it’d be 3; collectively we’re living as if we have 1.75 planets.

Now I’m no rocket scientist, but it seems pretty clear to me that this status quo is in no way, shape or form sustainable. And it gets worse as we look to the future. This is because we have another 2.2 billion people joining us by 2050, taking the global population to almost 10 billion – all of whom are going to want to consume, consume, consume. If we continue on our current trajectory, we’re on track to be living as if we have 3 planets by 2030, and 5 planets by 2050. Which, clearly, we do not.

Whether we like it or not, the sustainability revolution is going to transform absolutely everything about life – and business – as we know it.

So, what’s being done about this? Given that governments seem to be in paralysis; the media has been deafeningly silent; businesses are for the most part still obsessively focused on maximising shareholder returns to the detriment of absolutely everything else; and the tech billionaires are busy building bunkers or financing missions to Mars, this has left a vacuum that individuals are stepping into.

These individuals tend to be either activists – who are playing an instrumental role in provoking the incumbents to change – or they’re social entrepreneurs who are sick and tired of waiting for others to solve these problems, and are stepping forward to solve them themselves.

Saasha, my co-founder and I, are a classic example of social entrepreneurs stepping up. We saw an enormous problem – the problem of food waste, and nobody solving it. Globally, one-third of all the food we produce gets thrown away each year (which is worth over $1 trillion), meanwhile 800 million people go to bed hungry each night and, if food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the US and China.

What shocks most people, however, is to discover that in the developed world approximately half of all food waste takes place in the home, with the average UK family throwing away £730 of food each year that could’ve been eaten, collectively adding up to a whopping £14 billion.

Our solution is OLIO, an app that harnesses mobile technology to connect people who have food they don’t want or need with their neighbours living nearby who would like it.

Since launching 4 years ago, 2 million people have joined OLIO and shared over 5 million portions of food. The environmental impact of that is equivalent to taking 14 million car miles off the road, and we’ve saved 700 million litres of water. We generate revenues by charging businesses (supermarkets, cafes, food to go retailers, caterers etc) for the service we provide whereby our trained volunteers (Food Waste Heroes) collect their unsold food at the end of the day, and redistribute it via the app.

Like most of the new wave of social entrepreneurs, we have enormous ambitions – because the world needs us to. In our case we want to have a billion OLIOers within the next 10 years; all connected to ensure that the world’s most precious resources are shared, not thrown away.

In doing so, we intend to completely reinvent consumption so that we source what we can from our local community first and foremost (after all the average US home has more than 300,000 things in it), and only after that do we buy brand new. What might now seem like a bold ambition, will quickly become a necessity as the true implications of the sustainability revolution become apparent.

For any business, large or small, the sustainability revolution will be either the greatest opportunity or an existential threat – the most important role of leadership will be to get on the front foot and ensure it’s the former, not the latter.

For more information visit

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Sharing for the greater good

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