GiantLeaps wants to make accountability for the environmental impact of food the norm in the hospitality and events sector.
Before founding GiantLeaps in 2017, tax economist Laura Heerema worked for a while for a consultancy firm and for a year and a half as a corporate trainee. She had to change her own diet for health reasons. As a result, she became increasingly interested in the health effects of food, but also its environmental impact. She was shocked by the new insights she gained and by the scale of the problem, so she decided to abandon her corporate career and jump in at the deep end with her GiantLeaps start-up.
She didn’t have a defined business plan, but one thing was certain: Ms Heerema wanted to contribute to reducing the impact of western eating habits on the climate and the environment. “When I was still getting oriented,” she says, “I discovered that there was often no specific statistical basis in the sustainability debate. It was often just a matter of ‘We need to eat more local products’ or ‘We need to eat less animal and more vegetable food’. When I heard comments like those, I wanted to know why, and what the effect was. With GiantLeaps I make the environmental impact of food transparent statistically, and I show how it can be improved.”
Laura Heerema (Giantleaps) and Joep Sauren (Syndustry), about the lay-out of the GiantLeaps Impact Calculation Tool.
In 2019, GiantLeaps launched the Impact Calculation Tool. With the pilot version, GiantLeaps was one of the winners of PwC’s Social Impact Lab this year. “Amongst other things,” says Ms Heerema, “the award means that for two years we can work closely together with a multidisciplinary PwC team. What I want to do with the team is solve problems regarding a number of urgent issues and also take a strategic look at the long-term expansion of GiantLeaps.
We’ll shortly be making the Impact Calculation Tool available. It’ll help restaurants measure the environmental impact of the products they use. They can upload their purchasing list and match it with our database, which we’ll be constantly expanding. A dashboard with then show them, for example, what the impact is per guest, how it has developed compared to a previous period of time, and how the impact of the food compares to other factors that influence the environment. Our tool encourages both restaurants and caterers as well as their guests to limit the environmental impact by making different choices. For example, they can opt for more plant-based products and/or locally produced seasonal products.”
The data in the GiantLeaps database is compiled by applying life-cycle analysis to food products. “In a life-cycle analysis,” says Ms Heerema, “we examine all the various stages of a product and we convert the greenhouse gases released into a CO2 equivalent. Greenhouse gases all have a different impact on global warming. Methane, for example, retains the heat in the atmosphere more than CO2, and that can be expressed as a CO2 equivalent. We apply life-cycle analysis to show the difference in impact between choice A and choice B. That shows, for example, that locally grown strawberries are not as sustainable in December because of the quantity of fossil fuels needed to grow them. We make that clear by quantifying it, and by doing so we try to influence the choices made on the demand side.”
Laura Heerema says that besides the environmental impact, there are other problems concerning food and sustainability, such as the salinization of agricultural land, water consumption, and overfishing. “I started GiantLeaps,” she says, “with a focus on the environmental impact because its already the object of a great deal of attention and a lot of people realise how urgent it is. The global food industry is responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions. By regularly opting for sustainable options, people can reduce their individual climate footprint. It’s not my intention to play the blame game, but we want to show that every individual can contribute to reducing the environmental impact of our food. A lot of little steps together can make that giant leap.”
GiantLeaps works with a licensing model. Restaurants can take out a subscription to receive regular measurements, for example once each quarter. “In order to get the designation ‘climate-friendly’, just a measurement and a scan alone are not enough,” says Laura Heerema. “To earn that designation, a restaurant has to draw up KPIs and demonstrate that it’s reduced its environmental impact. Improvements in the light of a measurement can be implemented with or without the aid of GiantLeaps. We are also active at major events and festivals. At the Lowlands festival, we were one of the parties behind Brasserie 2050, which gave traditional brasserie dishes a new look. We printed the percentage difference in environmental impact on cards and provided them with the dishes that were served. We were also present at ADE Green, a conference on sustainability in the music and festivals industry. Our presence increases our name recognition, which is why we are being approached more frequently about projects in that sector.”
GiantLeaps currently focuses mainly on company restaurants. Laura Heerema explains: “A lot of companies are working to reduce their CO2 emissions, but they often don’t think about the food they serve in their restaurant, even though the emissions involved can be about half a tonne of CO2 per employee! Our business case is a good one for caterers, because they’re increasingly being assessed on sustainability. Until we came along, caterers had no way of demonstrating quantitatively how sustainable a company restaurant is. If a company restaurant wants to make itself more sustainable, the caterers can make use of our advice to change the product range. That will reduce the environmental impact of the range without any negative effect on the ‘food experience’. Restaurant chefs are role models and can show that sustainable products can also give us the food experience that we all want. We aim to show that you don’t necessarily have to install a full-scale vegan restaurant in order to become more sustainable. If company restaurants become the norm and create support for sustainable food, other restaurants can follow their example.”
“A lot of companies are working to reduce their CO2 emissions, but they often don’t think about the food they serve in their restaurant, even though the emissions involved can be about half a tonne of CO2 per employee!"
For Laura Heerema, the main thing is making an impact. She explains her ambition: “If reporting about the environmental impact in the hospitality industry becomes the norm, I hope GiantLeaps will have the leading role and that everyone will know that we are the ‘go-to business’ in that context. GiantLeaps is still operating without any external investment. We set up our business and developed our Impact Calculation Tool on a very tight budget. The launch of that tool will create greater scale capacity, so that we can also take on permanent staff to enable GiantLeaps to grow further. But to grow faster and also make an impact, then attracting external investment is the way forward. We intend expanding our team next year. We don’t need to grow a great deal in human capacity in order to increase our operational capacity, because that relies heavily on IT. But accelerated growth is important because the climate and environment problems are urgent, and we can’t wait too long to make an impact with our business. Our data-driven business model is very easily scalable and can be applied in other countries too. It would be great if in two years’ time we were also operating abroad!.”
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