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Green Tech Heroes: OLIO

Posted on 19 December 2016

At Co-operative Energy, we’re committed to creating a more sustainable future for everyone – and we’re not alone! There are an increasing number of businesses working to make the world a better place. 

As part of our Green Tech Heroes series, we wanted to shine a light on some of these exciting organisations and their innovative products and services. We also wanted to find out how they feel about the UK’s green tech market, as well as what the future holds.

OLIO is a free mobile app that connects neighbours with each other and local shops, allowing leftover food and other items to be shared, rather than thrown away. We had a chat with Tessa Cook, Co-Founder of OLIO about the app and her thoughts on the green technology landscape.

What does OLIO aim to achieve?

“The problem we are tackling is good food being thrown away - food waste is one of the largest problems facing mankind today. It’s truly shocking that over a third of all the food produced globally is thrown away, worth over $1trillion per year. Meanwhile there are 800 million malnourished people in the world, and food waste is the 3rd largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the USA & China. What many people don’t realise though is that here in the UK, over half of all food waste takes place in the home, in comparison to approximately 2% that takes place at a retail store level! So collectively UK households throw away £12.5bn of food each year that could have been eaten, which is 22% of the weekly shop, and worth £700 per family.

“OLIO is a free app that aims to solve this problem by connecting neighbours with each other and with local independent shops so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This could include food nearing its use-by date from shops, cafes and markets; spare vegetables from the allotment; cakes from an amateur baker; or groceries from household fridges when people go away or move home.

“To access the app, users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO. Neighbours then receive customised alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy, and arrange pick-up from home, the store, an OLIO Drop Box, or another agreed location.

“Since its launch, the app has had over 100,000 downloads and has been used to re-distribute over 130,000 items of food! Much of this growth has been powered by our network of 6,000 people who have volunteered to spread the word about OLIO in their local community. Whilst our users love the app because it helps them to reduce food waste and/or bag a bargain, what they really love is the community aspect and getting to meet a neighbour!”

What do you think is hindering green technology adoption in the UK?

“I think we’re in a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation. More and more consumers do want access to green products and services, but they must be great quality, convenient to access, and at affordable prices! At the same time, there are plenty of businesses wanting to provide these products & services, but they’re struggling to transition from their current sub-scale operations, and so are struggling to meet consumer needs on accessibility and price. In terms of breaking this status quo, I think we all have a part to play.

“The media are extremely important in terms of educating consumers about the impact of our current lifestyles and in presenting us with alternatives. The government has the opportunity to incentivise green companies through tax breaks and reduced red tape. And the finance community needs to ensure that the capital is available to support the bold ambitions of this new breed of green company. And finally, each and every one of us has the opportunity to ‘vote with our wallets’ when presented with the opportunity to buy green products vs conventional products.”

What do you think the future holds for the green technology landscape in the UK?

“I am confident that as increasing numbers of people realise the enormity of the sustainability challenges and opportunities facing humanity, we are going to see more and more start-ups emerge to tackle these problems. And as consumers and the media also turn their attention to these issues, it is starting to wake up large corporates. From a corporate perspective, it will take some time, and will require some serious courage and leadership from the very top - this is no longer just the domain of the CSR team; in many instances, the entire business model needs completely re-thinking.

“A great case in point is the supermarkets, who are not only having to tackle food waste throughout their supply chains, but are also going to have to adapt as their consumers stop wasting food in such huge quantities. This can either be seen as a threat – up to a 22% reduction in the weekly grocery shop - or as a massive opportunity – what other products and services can be provided to unlock those savings? Either way, this is a very exciting time to be in a business, and there are so many fantastic opportunities to impact the world for the better.”

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