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Olio: Tessa Clarke

After a 15 year corporate career, Tessa Co-Founded OLIO, the world's only neighbour-to-neighbour food sharing app, which is solving the problem of household food waste at scale. OLIO has grown to over 1 million users in just 3 years and its impact has been widely recognised, most notably by the United Nations who highlighted OLIO as a "beacon” for the world, and by Vivatech who awarded OLIO "Next European Unicorn".  Tessa is passionate about the sharing economy as a solution for a sustainable world, and about ‘profit with purpose’ as the next business paradigm. 

Can you tell us a bit about how you founded Olio, and how your career path led you to that point?
I’m a farmer’s daughter and so was brought up to value food as I know from firsthand experience just how much work goes into producing it. As a result, I absolutely hate food waste and always have. I didn’t think anything of this and after University went on to have a fairly classic corporate career. This all changed however just over 4 years ago when I was moving country and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. So I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to and to cut a long story short, I failed miserably. Through the whole process, it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this perfectly good food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it. And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app where neighbours can share their surplus food, came about!

How has the landscape in your industry changed in the last few years, and what innovations have had the biggest impact on your work?
When Saasha and I first started OLIO it seemed like no-one really understood or knew about the problem of food waste. However in the past year or two it does feel like awareness is really starting to increase which is great to see, and there are now more and more startups coming into the food waste space. As a result, I’m very much hoping that 2019 and 2020 will be the years that the food waste issue finally became mainstream. Because it’s changes in consumer mindset – rather than any specific innovation – that will have the greatest impact on our work.

How does the UK compare to other industrialized countries in terms of food waste? Where does most food waste in the UK come from?
Across the globe, food waste is an enormous problem – specifically, one-third of all the food produced globally gets thrown away, which is worth over $1 trillion p.a. In industrialized countries, the majority of food waste takes place at the end consumer level; whereas in developing countries the majority of food waste takes place at the beginning of the supply chain. In the UK specifically, well over half of all food waste takes place in the home, in comparison to a mere 2% that takes place at a retail store level. The reason for this is that there are approximately 28 million households in the UK that throw away a quarter of their weekly shop, which collectively adds up to £15 billion p.a.

How does food waste contribute to climate change?
Food waste is sadly one of the leading causes of the climate crisis. This is because the global agriculture system accounts for approx ¼ of all carbon emissions. As a result, if food waste were to be a country, it would be the 3rd largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA and China. From a resource and biodiversity perspective, food waste is also terrible, because a land mass larger than China, and a quarter of all fresh water is used to grow food that’s never eaten.

What is it about this sector that inspires you the most?
It’s very clear to me that the climate crisis has been caused by billions of small actions, and so arguably it can be mitigated by billions of small actions too. And that’s why I find the food waste space so exciting because it’s something that each and every one of us can get involved in, and make an enormous difference.

What is the number one thing individuals can do to reduce their food waste?
It might not sound like fun, but I always recommend that the best thing you can do to reduce your food waste is to plan your week of meals, and then shop to that plan. However when life gets in the way of planning, then of course you can always use the OLIO app to share your spare – half of all listings are requested in less than 1 hour, and we’ve had 2 million portions of food shared so far.

Food waste has started to be seen as a global priority, but tonnes of food still get thrown away. What do you think are the most important battles to be faced in the next few years?
The number one priority is continuing to drive awareness, first that food waste is such a big problem – specifically as it contributes to the climate crisis – and secondly, that well over half of all food waste takes place in the home. In parallel I would argue that we need more governments to legislate for food waste reduction because what gets measured gets done.

Who are your heroes or inspirations in terms of your management vision and environmental vision?
My heroes are people who are driving awareness of the climate crisis, so people like Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. And also individuals within the media who are relentlessly trying to spread the word, such as George Monbiot. And finally Extinction Rebellion, for calling out the climate crisis for what it is – a threat to the survival of humanity.

What key projects are you most excited about working on over the next year, and do you have any personal goals or ambitions that you would like to fulfil?
Over the next 12 months, I will continue to be obsessed about growing OLIO and our impact as rapidly as possible. On a personal level, it will be about trying to maintain a balance whilst doing that! 

Looking into the future, what would be the best-case scenario for Olio?
Our vision for the future is an unashamedly bold one – we want over 1 billion people using OLIO within the next 10 years. That’s because society’s current linear, disposable and wasteful model of consumption, is by definition unsustainable. This is evidenced in the fact that by the 29th July this year, humanity had used up all the resources that the earth could replenish in a year! Therefore the future we envision is one where OLIO enables an entirely new model of consumption – a circular, efficient one that connects billions of neighbours hyper-locally to share our most precious resources rather than throw them away.