“The problem is much worse than we think. We have to wake up” – Dr. Monika van den Bos Verma of Wageningen University, Netherlands
Food waste is one of the major global sustainability problems. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 30% of food is wasted globally across the supply chain and its reduction could benefit the economy, the environment, and society. In an attempt to do so, various harmonious enterprises have been launched to help reduce food waste at the point of production (e.g. Agricycle) and at the point of sale (e.g. The Company Shop and Too Good to Go), but 61% of all food waste comes from households. It is this problem that OLIO, launched in 2017, addresses.
The idea behind OLIO was triggered when Tessa Clarke, a graduate of Cambridge and Stanford Universities, was faced with food waste when leaving Switzerland to return to the UK in 2014. Tessa had fresh food she did not want to waste but had nobody to give it to other than her neighbours whom she did not really know and whom might not have wanted it. It was not until February 2015, after she told fellow Stanford graduate, Sasha Celestial-One, who shared a passion for reducing waste, that research and development on the app began.
Essentially OLIO is an app that connects neighbours in order to share rather than throw food away. Its mission is to transform society from a “throw away” society to a “give away” society, thereby helping provide a “practical, fun and scaleable solution to the biggest challenge of our time – climate change”. However, it also has the added advantage of introducing neighbours to each other and helping build local communities and this, according to Tessa, is the “real magic” of OLIO. “People tell us the whole time”, she says, “that since joining OLIO, they feel empowered, they feel connected, they feel safer, because they know who their neighbours are for the first time”.
While the core of OLIO (neighbour to neighbour sharing) is free, OLIO is not a charity. Rather it is a business that makes money largely by charging its larger company partners for the services it provides through its Food Waste Heroes Programme. However, this only covers around 30 per cent of the venture’s operating costs, the shortfall being made up by multiple rounds of investment financing. In 2018 it raised $6 million of series A funding and in 2021 series B funding of $43 million, demonstrating the confidence investors have in Tessa and Sasha and what they are doing. As Tessa says we are “ pioneering the total re-invention of consumption, and – eventually I’d like to think – capitalism”.
OLIO is very much a Harmonious Enterprise in which profit, planet and people are in Harmony. The latest series B funding will be used to scale the venture globally and to create some 135+ new jobs. However already it addresses SDGs 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), 15 (Life on Land), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 5 (Gender Inequality), 2 (Zero Hunger), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
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