Introducing the Future Leaders of Food Waste Reduction in the 2023 EDF Climate Corps Food Waste Fellowship

Introducing the Future Leaders of Food Waste Reduction in the 2023 EDF Climate Corps Food Waste Fellowship

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Introducing the Future Leaders of Food Waste Reduction in the 2023 EDF Climate Corps Food Waste Fellowship

Written by: Angel Veza
  |   September 18, 2023
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Launched in 2022, the Climate Corps(R) Food Waste Fellowship offers companies the opportunity to work with a Summer Fellow supported by ReFED and Environmental Defense Fund to design and support the implementation of food waste reduction initiatives to achieve broader climate goals.

As this year’s program winds to a close, ReFED’s Angel Veza spoke with some of the Fellows to learn about what inspired them to join the program and how the experience has shaped their career path.


[PHOTO: Summer Fellows attended the 2023 ReFED Food Waste Solutions Summit, where they engaged with food system leaders and participated in a range of mainstage and breakout sessions. Photo by www.JessicaYurinko.com.]


From the potential impact of reducing GHG emissions by 109 million tons to creating 60,000 jobs each year, the plethora of positive impacts food waste reduction can have has been clear, and yet in many organizations food waste is only a sliver of what sustainability leaders are focused on. To address this common challenge, the Climate Corps Food Waste Fellowship developed by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and ReFED is designed to provide a dedicated resource to accelerate food waste reduction initiatives for organizations that may have taken years to get off the ground. At the same time, the program is building a workforce of young professionals with experience, knowledge, and a deep understanding of the food waste opportunity and how to make it a reality. All of them are graduate students with a wide range of interesting backgrounds that led them to the EDF Climate Corps Food Waste Fellowship.

Meet Joey Gonzalez, one of the 2023 Food Waste Fellows, who previously served as a field artillery officer in the United States Army for more than nine years. He traveled to 10 countries as part of NATO missions, partner engagement, and deployments. “During my deployments to Eastern Europe and Syria, I saw how food and supply chains can be used to create community resilience or exploited to create instability,” says Gonzalez. “I decided to transition careers to follow a different avenue of security – food security. I saw it as a space where there was still a way to stay connected to service to others and a higher purpose.”  

Similarly, fellows like Sagarika Kaushik (third from right above) also discovered the program from a completely different line of work. “On my professional journey as an architect, my passion for sustainable and nature-inspired design gradually unfolded,” explained Kaushik. “ I found myself drawn to infusing green building elements such as biophilic features, green roofs, and water circularity into my creations. This newfound interest led me on an inspiring path toward developing eco-conscious solutions in my work.” Kaushik then pursued her Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, where she worked with Michigan Dining as a sustainability associate to drive food sustainability across the University. During that time, she witnessed food insecurity among students and was determined to make an impact, which led her to pursue the EDF Climate Corps Fellowship.

For others like Alexandre Rehbinder (second from right above), the desire to make a positive difference led them down a path toward the Fellowship. Rehbinder worked with Domini Impact Investments researching frameworks related to deforestation and natural capital. He then worked with Ossiam, an ETF firm focused on quantitative analysis, where he implemented engagement strategies for financial risks including carbon/climate, forests, biodiversity, governance, and nutrition, and afterwards with Danone S.A. managing its water stewardship initiatives and promoting investment in nature-based solutions from their headquarters in Paris. “I slowly found my niche at the intersection of water, food, and agriculture. I began to love the interconnectedness of food systems and the ability of water, food, and agriculture to heal individuals and communities,” says Rehbinder. “This niche led me to my first EDF Climate Corps Food Waste Fellowship in 2022 with Lane County Government. The attraction to the food waste reduction project was simple: it offered an accessible solution that reduced GHG emissions and increased food security. It was a solution that relied on food system data and community engagement.”

As a result of the work he started last year, Lane County brought on another EDF Food Waste Fellow this year to continue his work. “The impacts of the work [with Lane County] were profound,” explains Rehbinder. “The insights not only brought about tangible changes in the local community, but it also triggered action from other localities and the state of Oregon.” The experience was positive for Rehbinder too, as he returned to the Climate Corps program as a food waste fellow for a second year in a row working directly with ReFED.

Moreover, the program has provided the fellows with the building blocks they need for their future professional aspirations. Gonzalez, as an example, is working with Closed Loop Partners, analyzing the environmental and financial viability of food packaging reuse systems and developing recommendations for building and scaling organics collection programs to divert food waste from landfills. “This project is helping me understand the ecosystem and decision-making processes of food retailers, policymakers, and food diversion organizations that enable me to deeply understand the environment in which I will find myself during my career,” says Gonzalez. More than that, the experience has been invaluable. “Imagine working around visionaries who see the world not for what it is but for what it could be – that’s my daily experience with CLP,” describes Gonzalez. “It’s not just inspirational. It’s transformative in the way I see the world in which I live, and that experience can’t be measured. Outside of the organization and its culture, I get to work on topics that are so forward-thinking that I’m gaining insights on where industry is moving and get to be nightly reflecting on how the work I’m doing is building toward a more sustainable tomorrow. That’s priceless.”

Many of the fellows will be completing their projects in September and are wrapping up their work with a sense of excitement. Kaushik, who is supporting MGM Resorts International this summer, shares: “Working towards streamlining food and beverage operations while prioritizing sustainability has become an exhilarating opportunity for me to make a real difference.” 

This fellowship, created by EDF and ReFED, has not only created waves in food waste reduction initiatives for organizations like CAVA, Albertsons, J.M. Smucker, and others, but it has also inspired and influenced the career paths of young professionals.

Says Rehbinder, “As I look to the future, I see the EDFCC Food Waste Fellowship as a pivotal milestone in my career trajectory. My work with EDF and ReFED has strengthened my resolve to promote sustainable solutions in the global food system and help promote a regenerative economy that is in service to life on earth. It’s a path I’m excited to keep treading, and one I encourage others to consider embarking on too.”

Want to know more about hosting a food waste fellow in 2024? Contact ReFED’s Angel Veza at [email protected].
Want to be a fellow in 2024? Contact EDF’s Mali’o Kodis at [email protected].

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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