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Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

As Australia's top food rescue organization, OzHarvest depends on data. Annika Stott and Nigel Douglas explain how feeding their communities goes beyond just providing meals, and how the Alteryx Tech for Good program is helping to power OzHarvest as a global leader in food sustainability.







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Episode Transcription

ANNIKA 00:00

The issue of food waste in Australia, it's not just in Australia. It's a really significant global problem. So one third of all the food that's produced in the world is wasted, so that's over 1.3 billion tons. And not only is this a huge waste of money, but it's damaging our planet. And not many people are aware about the link between food waste and climate change, and the fact that it's responsible for nearly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

MADDIE 00:31

Welcome to Alter Everything, and happy Earth Month. In this episode, we're going to talk about food sustainability. You may be wondering why are we talking about this on a podcast about data science and analytics culture? Well, not only is data super important to even understanding the global issue, but analytics can really help drive the mission of non-profits focused on this, such as OzHarvest, Australia's leading food rescue organisation, and global leader in food sustainability. You just heard the voice of Annika Stott, sustainability strategist at OzHarvest leading their policy and advocacy work. And joining Annika, we'll hear from Nigel Douglas, AKA Dougie, the data analyst at OzHarvest who will talk about leveraging the Alteryx Tech for Good program to support the mission at OzHarvest.

NIGEL 01:23

It's coming up to 6 years now, and it's been an incredible journey. It really has. So my main responsibility is actually collating all the different data points that we have from all the various sources, and bringing it all together and sending out the reports.

MADDIE 01:41

Our guest host for this episode is Jennifer Yuen, our ESG and sustainability manager at Alteryx. And don't worry. If you don't know what ESG is, she'll explain it. Here's Jennifer.


My name is Jennifer Yuen, and I am the ESG and sustainability manager at Alteryx. For those who aren't familiar with ESG, it stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, and it's basically a reporting framework and a set of standards that is widely used by investors to evaluate companies on their sustainability and ethical practices. So I'm here today with Nigel Douglas and Annika Stott from OzHarvest, Australia's leading food rescue organisation, and a global leader in food sustainability. Nigel and Annika, welcome to the podcast. So to begin, I'd love if you could tell us about the mission at OzHarvest, and how your organisation really sits at the intersection of food waste, food security, and sustainability.

ANNIKA 02:42

Yeah, sure. Well, I can explain that. So OzHarvest, as you've touched on, is Australia's leading food rescue organisation. And so we collect good quality food via our fleet of yellow vans. And we deliver that food to people in need. So Ronni Kahn is our CEO and founder, and she started OzHarvest in 2004. And so the way that Ronni discovered the problem of food waste was that she was running an events company, and during that time, she started to see just how much waste was coming from her own operations. And so with one van, she started rescuing food in Sydney, and delivering that food to local charities. And in the first month, she delivered 4,000 meals. And she sort of realised the sort of magnitude of the problem. And so with that, she shut down the events company, and established OzHarvest. And 18 years later, food rescue is still the foundation of what we do, and our iconic yellow vans are well recognised in communities across the country, but there's actually so much more to the work that we do, which is all about nourishing our country.

ANNIKA 03:53

So our work is driven by four key pillars, so that's feed, educate, advocate, and innovate. So what that looks like is we feed people in need, we educate to create change, we advocate for sustainability, and we innovate for social impact. So here, you can see how we really are playing in the environmental and social space because we're tackling two issues, essentially. So we're really proud to say that we have delivered over 200 million meals. We employ over 280 staff, and we have a yellow army of 4,000 volunteers across the country in metro offices and regional communities all around Australia. But interestingly, our vision is not to expand and to really grow. We actually want to put ourselves out of business, which is an unusual business model. But ultimately, our vision is a future where no one goes hungry and food is valued and not wasted. And the issue of food waste in Australia, it's not just in Australia. It's a really significant global problem. And so one third of all the food this produced in the world is wasted, so that's over 1.3 billion tonnes. And not only is this a huge waste of money, but it's damaging our planet. And many people are not aware about the link between food waste and climate change, and the fact that it's responsible for nearly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the aviation sector.


Yeah. And I think it's really interesting to bring it back to climate change, because the mission of OzHarvest is not to help grow more food, but to actually feed more people while wasting less of what we already produce, because we produce enough to feed everyone on this planet already. We just are wasting a lot of it.

ANNIKA 05:45

That's right. And it doesn't make sense when we waste so much food, and yet there's literally millions and millions of people that don't have enough. And many of that's right here in Australia as well. So one in six people don't have enough food to eat in Australia, whilst 7.6 million tonnes of good food is wasted each year.


I was wondering, Annika and Nigel, I would love to hear from both of you about why you're so passionate about working for OzHarvest and what it does.

NIGEL 06:16

I think for me, I started at OzHarvest as a driver, so I was on the front end of the actual process, going out, loading the van with the food, going to the agencies, well, collecting from the stores. And I was just amazed at what was actually getting thrown in the bin. So when you're actually arriving at an agency and you're opening up the van doors and they come in and have a look at what you've got, and they see all this different good food, you just see, it's a shift. It's a change in their personality, because they often just eat junk food. They often just get the food that's available to them. So it actually has a real direct impact on knowing that they're going to have something good to eat. So just seeing that social impact, it just makes you drive to want to do it more.

ANNIKA 07:10

I agree, Dougie. I think it's all about the power of food, and how it brings people together and communities together. And the food that we offer at OzHarvest, it's so much more than just a meal. It's hope, it's love, it's dignity, it's respect. We make sure that we give good quality food to people, and that's done in a really loving way. So for example, we've just opened Australia's first Refettorio with Massimo Bottura, who was the world's number one chef. And this is a really incredible space where our vulnerable community can come and receive a meal in this space that's set up and it's designed with so much art and music and culture, and it's just this incredible space where they're served a beautiful meal on a beautiful dish, with an arrangement of flowers and incredible Aboriginal art on the walls, and it's a free meal. And we really understand that food is so much more than just something to fill a hole in a belly.

NIGEL 08:08

Yeah. And it's about equality. Because what you're doing is you're giving people the same food that everybody else is eating. And we quite often, we collect things that would be regarded as treats, and then they get those treats. So we might get something from a pastry shop, so it might be a birthday cake or something, and it just so happens that they're celebrating their birthday, and they get that cake. And it just makes them feel like everybody else again, not disconnected from society and separate and devalued. It basically says, "You are worthwhile. You are valued. You are the same as everybody else."

ANNIKA 08:48

Yeah. As sustainability strategist, I'm really passionate about the connection between food waste and climate change. And this really connects into the fact that reducing food waste is the third most impactful way to curb climate change. And actually, from a household level, it's the number one thing that we can all do to take climate action. So I really see food and addressing food waste as a really powerful way of creating positive change, and addressing so many of the other issues that we're facing at the minute.


And just to build off of that, let's dive deeper into food waste, because it's not just about one person buying too much food at the grocery store. But what's the bigger picture? And what are some actions we can be taking at the consumer level to make a difference in reducing the amount of food waste that we create?

ANNIKA 09:40

Well, yeah. Good question. And so as I said, we waste a third of all the food that's produced, and in Australia, that's 7.6 million tons. And it happens across the entire food supply chain. So from farms to manufacturing, to supermarket, to hospitality, and of course, in our homes. So we know that a third of all the carrots don't even leave the farm. And there's so many different reasons for food waste in the supply chain. So there's pests and disease on farm. There's cosmetic standards that are enforced by supermarkets. There's the fact that sometimes food is just too expensive to even be picked, so labour is too expensive. Food waste happens during the manufacturing process. It happens in supermarkets because of inefficient ordering processes. And really, the bottom line is that we waste a shocking amount of food each year, and this is coming at a cost to our global and national economy, and most importantly, the environment. It's just really unsustainable to continue to waste food when we already have a food system that has so much pressure on it. So in terms of what we can do as individuals, interestingly, OzHarvest asked this question recently, and we did some research working with behavioural scientists to understand what is the most impactful thing householders can do to reduce food waste.

ANNIKA 11:10

And so essentially, there's 72 different reasons why people waste food in the home, and we really wanted to understand what are the behaviours that are high impact in terms of food waste tonnage avoided, and what are the behaviours that Australians or householders in general are most likely to do. And so because there's no point designing interventions if it's a high impact behaviour, but the likelihood of people adopting that behaviour is very low. So we did some really comprehensive research, and it's publicly available on our website, actually. And from that, the most overwhelming response was to simply use it up. Now, that sounds really easy, right? What that actually boils down to is two behaviours. So it's about creating a space in your fridge and pantry to put food that needs using up. So that might be things like chicken that's close to its use-by date, two packets of spinach that have already been opened, and they accidentally got two of them. Or some milk that needs using up. So you put that on the use-it-up shelf, and then most importantly, it's about remembering to cook with these ingredients first. Now, this is a really, really powerful way to save food, save money, and save the planet.


And I was reading on the website how you actually have an initiative or a program called the Use It Up tape. Can you tell us about that?

ANNIKA 12:37

Yeah, absolutely. So this is a really cool product. So there's no other innovation in the world like it, but the amazing thing about it is it's also super simple. So this is a tape. It's a paper-based tape, so it's removable, reusable, and recyclable. And it's a tape that we have created to help people mark out the shelf in their fridge to put food that needs using up, or it could be stuck directly onto food items. And so what we're saying is this is a really powerful way of helping people identify what they have in the fridge, and also getting the whole family and the whole household to identify what food needs using. So quite often, food waste is the responsibility of one person in the household. There might be one person who's advocating to reduce it, but it's actually a result of everyone in the household, how they interact. So this tape gives everyone shared responsibility. And from the research that we're doing at the minute, we've seen that it actually reduces household food waste by 30%. Which is incredible, because there's actually no other product innovation on the market that has got such significant results.


That's amazing. I love that it's-- it's such a simple concept, but I feel like it's an easy behavioural change to make. And I feel like a lot of the actions we need to take in this fight against climate change are just shifts in behaviour. And some of them are very simple. And so giving a product like the Use It Up tape is very approachable for everyone to be able to adapt.

ANNIKA 14:17

Well, that's exactly it. And you don't have to have the tape, the OzHarvest Use It Up tape. You can make your own tape. So it can just be with some masking tape and some sharpie texters, and you create that space yourself. So it's very accessible for everyone. And more than that, more than just the tape, it's about adopting the use-it-up behaviour, which is really the important thing in it.


Awesome. I'd like to shift gears a bit to talk to Nigel about data. So Nigel, could you tell us a little bit about how important data is in the fight against food waste, and how you're harnessing that data to make a tangible difference at OzHarvest?

NIGEL 14:59

Sure. Obviously, data is a very important piece for me, personally. But it's all about impact, and how it drives connection, engagement, and commitment. So when we're creating reports and presentations, towards stakeholders both internally and externally, we're really painting a picture of theirs and our impact. And the data is the palette. The cleaner the data, the more defined and wider the range of colours are available for us to use. We do report to our external stakeholders, as from the major donors, and then obviously, internally to the company board, even to the drivers, so that we know how we're doing as a business. It gives us the opportunity as well to give feedback to those who support us, and so those who support our business through their donations, through either food or through actually monetary donations.


Would you be able to tell us, Nigel, about a situation where you've been able to use Alteryx Designer or another Alteryx product for revisualising the data that you have captured?

NIGEL 16:09

Sure. One of the key areas that I'm using it at the moment is in the spatial sense. So we have all our customers with their longitude and latitude coordinates in there, and we use Alteryx to find the nearest location to a particular point. So that way, we can automatically identify what government area they're in, what council they're in. So this then means that we don't have to user entry errors to clean. It's automated. So this allows us then to, when we're putting in applications to governments for funding - because funding drives everything that we do - we're able then to accurately turn around and say, "Yes. We can equip those grants, that funding, and we can actually put in a successful application."


OzHarvest is one of the organisations that we partner with through our Alteryx Tech for Good Program, which is our commitment to providing free or discounted Alteryx Designer licenses to non-profit organisations that are working to bring positive change to our communities, the planet, and those issues that align with our corporate values. So non-profit organisations, such as OzHarvest that join this program, also have the opportunity to collaborate with our skills-based volunteering network, made up of our employees, customers, and partners. So Nigel, as spearheading the effort from OzHarvest to be a part of our Tech for Good program, what advice would you have for other non-profit organisations who would benefit from the Tech for Good program?

NIGEL 17:45

Mainly that most charities can't afford or even have the need for a full-time developer. So the skill set that is required is beyond their means. So because Alteryx actually requires no coding, you're able to transform the data from multiple disparate sources and formats into a unified data set. You can do that yourself. You can be self-taught, and not only that, you can upskill your workforce very easily. So the whole process with Alteryx for Good is that it's enabling you. There is an excellent knowledge base and community support online with Alteryx. Basically, if you ask a question, if you google it, there will be an answer. Somebody else has asked that same question, and there is a solution.


Absolutely. Our community, the Alteryx community is a great place to go when you just have a question and you want to see if someone else has had a similar question and has a solution that you can also implement at your organisation.

NIGEL 18:44

Yeah. The range is incredible. You think, "Surely, somebody's never asked that question before." Yes, they have.


And Nigel, you have, I imagine, kind of an interesting story with starting as a driver and then moving into the data field. Did you have a background in data science? Or how did that transition happen?

NIGEL 19:03

No, I was actually a chef previously. That's my initial career. But it's actually a help-- there is a lot of correlation between being a chef and a data analyst, because you've got to do food costs, you've got to-- everything is, when you're the head chef, it's economic-based. So there is a lot of data analytics going on there. So I needed a change. So I joined OzHarvest. And you generally start as a driver. A lot of people that come into the business have actually started as a driver. And it gives you a really good insight into what they do. And it was from being on the road that I started to ask all these questions, how much should I be picking up from this customer? How much should I be donating to this charity? What time should I get there? So I started keeping all this data, collecting all this data myself. And it was from that, and I started analysing it at home, just to make my life better and my life easier, and then from that, I started putting forward these little questions and they say, "So you're interested in this?" And I went, "Yeah." So I got access to the data, started doing it on a bigger scale. That then grew into one-day-a-week job in the office, getting the data, bringing it all together, and it grew and grew. And then it got to a point where you become limited just by spreadsheets. It comes to a point where you need different tools and different avenues to explore that data, bring it all together.

NIGEL 20:34

And that's when Alteryx came in. And it was recommended to us by somebody who was mentoring me at the time, who was working at Macquarie Bank. And we looked at it, and we went, "That is awesome." And we had no idea there would be the opportunity to get a free license. So we applied on the hope of-- You have what you think are realistic expectations, and then when we got there, we went, "Oh wow." And then you just-- of course, it's like a kid with a new toy. You just spend a lot of time digging, learning, researching, going online, how do I do this? Oh, I can do that. It's brilliant. And from that, we've grown and grown. And data. We collected so much data, but we didn't really do a lot with it. And now, we know how important that data is, which was sort of like-- somebody asking me a question, and I go, "Oh, yeah. I've got the answer to that." "Oh, what about this?" "Yeah, I've got the answer to that." So now, it's become a major, major point in our business of being able to answer the questions and identify. Because at the end of the day, that's what data is all about. It's about trying to identify trends, but it's also about efficiencies. For us, efficiencies is the equivalent to rescuing more food. So therefore, removing from landfill, and delivering more meals. That is our efficiency.


I love that story, Nigel, hearing about how you were able to pivot your career into something that was already impactful, but now is impactful in a different way, and that you're able to use Alteryx to kind of upskill and uplevel the kind of insight that you're able to generate at OzHarvest to help with fighting your mission.

ANNIKA 22:26

And I'd love to add to that as well, just around what some of those metrics are. So as a result of data, we can tell our donors that one dollar donated to OzHarvest equals two meals that we can provide to people in need. And then also we can say 1 kilo of food rescued equals 6.6 kilos of greenhouse gas emissions saved. In addition, a kilo of food equals 345 litres of water saved. And from this, we're able to really develop our story and our impact story, so that we can engage different stakeholders. We can sort of bring people on the journey with us and celebrate success, and also, as Dougie said, identify opportunities to improve our operations.

NIGEL 23:19

And from an ESG perspective, I have to say being able to report out on that impact using quantitative metrics such as that is so important for your entire stakeholder community to understand the type of impact that you're making, not just qualitatively, but with hard numbers.

ANNIKA 23:39

Yeah. Absolutely. We have to be able to tell it with hard numbers. Otherwise, there's no way to tell what we do and how we do it, and also look at year on year in opportunities for growth, and yeah, just recognise what the trends are and how do we continue to have impact in our community, because at OzHarvest, impact is about everything that we do, and data informs impact.


If there are any non-profit organisations that are interested in joining our Tech for Good program, I'm just going to plug our website, that you can go to our website, and apply for the program. We'll drop a link to that in our show notes. And I wanted to pivot back to OzHarvest. So I know that OzHarvest has produced some really amazing programs and initiatives that really aim to provide education and advocacy around changing behaviours in order to help reach the national target of cutting food waste in half by 2030. So I'd love to know, Annika, can you share with us an OzHarvest accomplishment that really blew you away?

ANNIKA 24:45

Yeah, sure. And I really think it's the fact that we have delivered 200 million meals since 2004. That's just such a significant amount of food that's been rescued and then taken to people in need. So 200 million meals is 100 million kilos of food that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. Perfectly good, edible food. There's no reason it should end up in landfill. So for me, that is such a significant achievement. And I also think just the fact that we're looking at this issue holistically, and that's why we have really beautiful education programs to change people's behaviours, and to support vulnerable people, to help make cooking and some of those life skills around sort of the relationship with food to strengthen that. So there's so much that we do under our pillars of feed, educate, advocate, and innovate. And food is at the heart of all of it.


Amazing. Same question for Nigel. Could you share with us an OzHarvest accomplishment that blew you away?

ANNIKA 25:54

I think I stole Dougie's response.

NIGEL 25:57

Well, you stole parts of it. Yes, because basically, out of that 200 million meals, it took 14 years, from 2004 to 2018 to deliver 100 million. It's taken 4 years to deliver another 100 million. So that growth is just being phenomenal. But that's not because we're expanding. That's because there's been more connections created. So as we have grown, our awareness has grown, so therefore, the interaction and the connection from businesses has grown. But it also means there's more demand than supply. But we've still managed to deliver 200 million meals. So obviously, we want to put ourselves out of business, but we're not going to put ourselves out of business while ever that demand and that waste is there. So it is, I agree, it's all about the innovation. It's all about the education. It's so important.


Did you all have to shift your model at all in response to COVID, that happened over the last few years?

NIGEL 27:04


ANNIKA 27:05

Yeah. Yeah. Hugely. And so we went from an organisation that had really very limited government funding to actually requiring a lot of government funding. And in that, we used to always-- our model was purely food rescue, so collecting food from food donors and then taking it directly to charities. What we had to do during COVID for the first time ever was actually buy food to meet the needs that we were facing. And so we saw the need for food relief increase by 46% during COVID. And that's just such a shocking number to be a reality in a country as wealthy as Australia.

NIGEL 27:49

Yeah. Food security is like, I know Annika was saying earlier, it's not an Australian issue. It's a worldwide issue. It's very much at the forefront of political discussion. And if food security is such a problem, why are we wasting it? It doesn't make sense. It's not logical.


My final question is what's next for OzHarvest? And how can people get involved with fighting food waste in their local communities?

ANNIKA 28:17

Good question. Well, the exciting thing about OzHarvest is that we never really know what's next. There's always, especially under the innovation pillar, there's always new things happening and bubbling away. So you can stay close to what we do, via our website, or via social media. So it's just @OzHarvest. And we're always looking at opportuniti6es internationally to see how we can replicate our model overseas to support the challenges of food waste and food insecurity over there. So there's a lot of growth that's happening in that space. So yeah. That's following us via our website is one way to stay close. In terms of what you can do in your community, I think we can even level that down a little bit more to just what can you do at home, and that is all about contributing to a community that is not wasting food and the precious resources that go into that. So my advice for that question is to simply use it up. Look at the food that you have. Make sure that you're getting maximum value from it, and cook with what needs using up first.

NIGEL 29:26

Yeah. I agree totally with that.


Great. Thank you both so much for joining the podcast today. We really appreciate all the insights that you shared, and we're looking forward to continuing to support OzHarvest and your mission to fight food waste.

MADDIE 29:42

Thanks for listening. To learn more about the Alteryx Tech for Good program, check out our show notes. And be sure to spread the word to the non-profits you support in your community. Also, if you need another great reason to attend our Inspire conference in Denver this upcoming May, some of the amazing Alteryx team members you heard on the podcast will be there, including the folks who support our Tech for Good program. I'll also be there, and would love to meet you. Next time on Alter Everything, you'll hear another Earth Month themed episode, hosted by Jennifer. So make sure you're subscribed on your favourite podcast app, and if you do any special for Earth Month this April, tell us about it, at Catch you next time.


So Annika, I noticed that you were referring to Nigel as Dougie. Could you tell us about the origin of that nickname?

ANNIKA 30:40

Yes. Well, we love Dougie, but his real name is Nigel. And when Nigel joined OzHarvest, there was actually two Nigels, so we endearingly called him Dougie, which is based on his surname Douglas. And it's just stuck. So you'll notice in the podcast, I was trying to remember to call him Nigel, but it just doesn't stick. So that's why he's called Dougie.


How do you feel about that nickname, Nigel?

NIGEL 31:07

I'm fine with it. It was actually a name that I had when I was younger, that all my mates used to call me Dougie or Doug. And as you grow older and you get into a more, if you want, professional atmosphere, people have a tendency to call you by your proper first name. And then to actually be called Dougie again, it's more friendly. It's more matey. And so yeah. I love it. It's actually a better name than Nigel. [laughter]

ANNIKA 31:36

I think it's a very Australian thing, for everyone just to call someone by a nickname, but not necessarily know the origins of it as well.

NIGEL 31:45

Yeah. It's amazing how many people go, "How did you get that?" So yeah, I like it. I like it. It makes it more friendly.


This episode was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ). Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @mikecusic for our album artwork.