Q&A with John Mandyck, Chief Sustainability Officer, United Technologies Corporation

John Mandyck is chief sustainability officer for United Technologies Corporation, a global leader in the aerospace, food refrigeration and commercial building industries. He co-authored the book Food Foolish, which explores the connection between food waste, hunger and climate change.

Q: How would you summarize the significance of the cold chain to our global problem of food waste?

A: Two thirds of all losses occur at the production and distribution level of the global food chain, while five of the top six lost and wasted food categories are perishable foods that supply humankind with a majority of its necessary vitamins and nutrients.

Despite this, only 10 percent of global perishable foods are refrigerated–the very foods that can benefit most from refrigeration technologies that are readily available today. So the cold chain is essential to extending the world’s food supply. An expanded cold chain also has additional climate benefits, because research shows that for every ton of carbon eliminated by growing the cold chain in emerging economies, there is a 10-ton reduction in GHG emissions associated with food loss and waste.

Q: How has the cold chain advanced since the turn of the century?

A: Cold chain technology has improved vastly over the last several decades. Carrier, a United Technologies company, provides transport refrigeration systems by land and by sea, as well stationary systems for supermarkets. Today we offer solutions that allow for precise control of temperature and humidity, preserving all types of perishable cargo no matter where it needs to go, or stay. At the same time, we’ve advanced environmental technologies, such as the use of CO2 as a natural refrigerant which can reduce the carbon footprint of marine container refrigeration by 28 percent.

Q: What opportunities exist for cold chain improvement?

A: Cold chain improvement can result in less wasted food, and there are several big opportunities that present themselves when we take steps to reduce food waste. We can help get more nutritious food to those in need, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and save water. The world has the capability today of feeding 10 billion people, but 800 million are chronically undernourished while two billion suffer from malnutrition because up to 40 percent of all food is lost or wasted. Food loss creates 4.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually which, if measured as a country, would be the world’s third largest emitter of GHG emissions behind China. U.S. agriculture requires 70 percent of all freshwater used by humankind, so wasted food is also wasted water. Solving the issue of food loss and waste would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing every car from every road every year, and conserve enough water to fulfill the annual water needs of the African continent.

Q: What is the most common misnomer about food waste companies in the cold chain should work together to dispel?

A: Many people believe food waste is a consumer issue alone. While it’s true that the top place we waste food in the U.S. is in the household, globally two-thirds of food is wasted at the production and distribution level – mostly in emerging economies – where implementation of the cold chain can play a big role.

Q: Does government regulation do enough to ensure proper temperature handling?

A: Governments can help in three ways: Provide awareness on the scale and consequence of food waste; Encourage food safety measures that have the additional benefit of avoiding waste; and Work with international finance bodies to provide access to capital to small holder farmers to invest in technologies that can extend food supplies.