10 minutes with Tessa Clarke

Tessa Clarke is the cofounder and CEO of game changing food sharing app OLIO. To date, 2.5 million people have downloaded the app and shared over 7 million portions of food, the carbon equivalent of taking more than 20 million car miles off the road.

What first brought the climate or biodiversity crisis to your attention?

I’m a farmer’s daughter and so I’ve always hated throwing away good food. My moment of awakening with regards to the climate crisis took place when I was moving country five years ago 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. And so I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to, and I failed miserably.

Through the whole process it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this 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 that connects neighbours to share food came about. The first thing my co-founder Saasha and I did was to research the problem of food waste, and what we discovered shocked and horrified us.

Specifically, we discovered that globally one third of all the food we produce gets thrown away which is worth over $1 trillion a year (£766 billion). Meanwhile, 800 million people go to bed hungry each night (who could be fed on a quarter of the food we waste in the West) and if food waste were to be a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gases, after the USA and China! And, as if all that weren’t bad enough, we discovered that in a country like the UK, half of all food waste takes place in the home. We couldn’t believe that what sounded like a horrific dystopian nightmare was in fact our reality, and immediately became committed to trying to solve it.

What environmental issues most concern you right now?

I’m most concerned by the fact that we’re facing a triumvirate of environmental crises. First, we have the climate crisis which sees us on track for a 3°C to 4°C warmed world, rather than the 1.5°C target. Second, we have the biodiversity crisis which means that 1 million species out of a total of 8 million on earth are at risk of extinction. And finally, we have the resource depletion crisis which is reflected in the fact that we’re currently consuming as if we have 1.75 planets, versus the one we actually have. All are inextricably linked and solving them will require us to reinvent the very fabric of our society and lives.

What gives you hope?

Every time I talk to a fellow entrepreneur who’s come up with a super innovative solution to these problems.

What’s the most inspiring solution you’ve seen so far?

I love SafetyNet Technologies which uses light technology to ensure that only the fish that we intend to catch are caught, which results in a 20%+ reduction in the wastage of fish catches. And Aeropowder which uses some of the 10,000 tonnes of waste chicken feathers that are generated globally every day and repurposes them into innovative packaging products.

What do you do to feel connected to nature?

A critical part of maintaining my physical and mental health is getting out for a run, walk or bike ride in the countryside every day. Just breathing deeply in nature is unbelievably restorative.

What book or film would you recommend everyone reads or sees?

I’d recommend that everyone reads Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate; and would follow it with The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy, by Paul Gilding.

Who inspires you when it comes to tackling the crisis?

It sounds clichéd, but my kids. They’re 6 and 8 and it really focuses the mind to think about the world they will inhabit, and it never fails to spur me on.

If someone asked you what action they should take today, what would you say?

I would ask them to consider each pound they spend as a vote – they can either vote for the status quo OR they can take their money and use it to vote for the change we all wish to see. So, whenever possible when buying products, always try and buy second hand (if you can’t re-use, rent or borrow), and if that’s not possible, try and look for an environmentally friendly version instead.

If you could implement one global policy tomorrow, what would it be?

So many! I’d get countries to move away from GDP as their primary measure of success and to instead include more holistic measures such as wellbeing. I’d get all companies to include the B Corp wording in their articles of association which means they need to give equal weight to people and planet, rather than just shareholder profit. And finally, I’d introduce global carbon pricing, and ensure that carbon pricing is shown on all products and services, as well as their water and biodiversity impact.

What does 2050 look like to you?

It’s a world that has only warmed by a max of 1.5°C, and is therefore more equitable and enjoyable than the one we have today. 

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