The following blog is a summary of my honours thesis, to share what I've been learning this year.
Overall, my thesis is about effectively evaluating programs for social change by involving key stakeholders, and specifically in the context of food waste. I conducted what we call a process evaluation of a food waste program and compared feedback from participants and key stakeholders to find out what worked and what didn't, to incorporate multiple perspectives on how the program could improve in future development and expansion.
I'll start by outlining the problem of food waste, then explain how social marketing can work to address this problem before describing the contribution of my research in this application.
Food waste is a big problem. Firstly, it directly contributes to the degradation of the earth's natural environment and secondly, food waste is money waste, and presents a huge economic burden on governments, local councils and households.
Here's a couple of stats to paint the picture. Broadly speaking, 1/3 of all food produced globally is lost or wasted (1). This includes loss in production, transport, and at retail and consumer levels. The other thing is, food waste makes up 47% of our rubbish tips (in Australia) (2), and there it becomes a key contributor of greenhouses gas emissions. In Australia, we're talking about 7.5 million tonnes each year of CO2-e, not including methane (3).
(Please see below the blog post for basic statistic references. For a comprehensive list of academic references, please contact me.)
Some may be quick to blame industrial processes or mega-supermarket chains, and for sure, they play a role in the problem (though they are too, arguably driven by the consumer, an important discussion for another day). And there are a number of organisations, such as Ozharvest, doing an increasingly excellent job at redirecting waste from these avenues. However, studies show that in affluent countries, it's at the post-consumer stage where the majority of waste occurs (4). That's us. Specifically, according to 1200 households in NSW, $74.35 per week is thrown out (5). Multiply that by the number of households in Australia and weeks in a year, and you get $38b each year! Seriously! Down the drain. It's a big number, but I think the main thing is it points to a broad-sweeping cultural norm in which where food is not valued for it's true worth, and responsibility is not taken for the impact of it's waste. You see, the other thing is studies assessing household waste have concluded that an estimated 88% of it is avoidable (6)!
So that's the situation. The food system is complex and there are many points along the chain to tackle the problem. But we do know there is a lot of room for improvement at the household and consumer level.
Enter Social Marketing.
Social marketing tackles public health, environmental and social issues using marketing strategies and tools. These problems are often complex, and behaviours can be hard to understand, change and measure. But, good social marketing works toward each of these things. For more information on how this works, and how social marketing was applied to the problem of household food waste, see this previous blog post.
Evaluation is especially important as it allows us to assess whether a strategy or program is really really working or not. And not just what changed or didn’t, but WHY it did or didn’t. The WHY of change is measured in what we call a process evaluation. It tries to find out what parts of the campaign effectively engaged with people; what made the difference. Process evaluations have been highly under-utilised in social marketing thus far, leading to restricted evaluations of programs and a lack of understanding in regards to behaviour change.
Another problem we can see in social marketing evaluation is a short-sighted focus on the individual. This is a problem as behaviours are almost always closely linked to environmental and social factors. And programs almost always involve a number of key stakeholders that impact the program and how it engages with people. Process evaluations can expand and improve evaluation of programs by involving key stakeholders.
Some research has been done to try to establish strategies to reduce household food waste. Very few of them have used social marketing tools. I wont go into the details of what previous food waste programs did, but it's worth noting for the sake of my own research, that of those with academic reporting, only 25% engage with key stakeholders, and only 30% conduct any form of process evaluation.
"...only 25% (of food waste reduction programs) engage with key stakeholders, and only 30% conduct any form of process evaluation."
In my study, I completed a process evaluation of a food waste program called Waste Not Want Not, which was piloted in SE QLD in March this year. The program involved the development of 16 new recipes that targeted foods most commonly thrown away in this particular suburb we piloted in, as told to us by the residents. Alongside the recipe cards, we developed some branded march to help prompt their use and food waste awareness, including reusable shopping bags, chopping boards and notepads. The key strategy was to promote the time and money saving benefits of reducing food waste at home, by promoting these recipes which targeted commonly wasted foods.
To strengthen our evaluation of the pilot program, I surveyed participants aswell as other key stakeholders about their engagement with the program. Specifically, this meant surveying three chefs that were involved with recipe design and cooking demonstrations, management staff from the shopping centre in which we ran our display and student volunteers that handed out food samples and recipes in the shooting centre. I then compared the responses between participants and key stakeholders to see what was up.
In short, I found that the key stakeholders had important and unique insights into the program that would have been missed had the evaluation been limited to individual participants. For example, our volunteers were on the ground talking to residents about food waste and representing our recipes and brand. They reported clear feedback about what engaged with people and what didn’t. Compared to participants, who sometimes had very minimal interaction with the campaign, perhaps only sighting a program pack we mailed to them, these students saw the program come into contact with hundreds of people, our target audience. Some of the volunteers were on the street every day for two weeks, and told us what it was like, how the food samples really enticed people into the recipes and campaign message, but that the brand didn’t suite the audience they met in the centre, made up mostly of adults over 45 years of age. Other feedback from chefs opened up potential areas for program expansion, such as restaurant events and collaboration with other community groups. These insights will go into improving the program as it expands into broad scale implementation. It's feedback like this that can sharpen a program and brand to efficiently impact a target audience, and modify the offerings that are crucial to the marketing campaign and thus maximise the potential to change behaviour.
"...key stakeholders had important and unique insights into the program that would have been missed had the evaluation been limited to individual participants"
To summarise, include your key stakeholders in evaluation of social marketing programs! They provide valuable insight into program implementation and engagement. More research needs to be done on how to systematically and efficiently manage stakeholder input into social marketing programs, and in terms of food waste, how we can develop a system-wide approach to tackle the problem of food waste, and progress toward a sustainable food system.
Thanks for reading.
(1) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2014). The Food Wastage Footprint.
(2) Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2013). Towards the Australian Environmental- Economic Accounts, 2013, (Catalogue No. 4655.0.55.002).
(3) Mason, L., Boyle, T., Fyfe, J., Smith, T., & Cordell, D. (2011). National food waste assessment: Final report, Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS.
(4) Parfitt, J., Barthel, M., & Macnaughton, S. (2010). Food waste within food supply chains: quantification and potential for change to 2050. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 365(1554), 3065–3081. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0126
(5) Environment Protection Authority, New South Wales (EPA NSW) (2016). Love Food Hate Waste – NSW food waste tracking survey 2015–16.
(6) Sustainability Victoria (2014). Food waste in the garbage bin 2013.