This paid opportunity was created for actively enrolled MIT undergraduate students in partnership with the PKG Center’s Social Impact Internship program. Please reach out to email@example.com with any questions or concerns. Remote work allowed. In-person work is possible if mutually agreed by student and host site.
WWF is a leading environmental conservation organization; our half-century of conservation success is rooted firmly in science. Over the last decade we have worked in food systems to advance our mission of people living in harmony with nature. Producing enough food while limiting our impact on the environment is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Worldwide, it’s estimated humans waste 40% of all food we produce. Wasted food represents roughly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions (nearly four times larger than the global airline industry’s) and is a main driver of the loss of forests, grasslands, and other critical wildlife habitats—while also depleting our freshwater supply.
Reducing food waste is a huge challenge, but also an opportunity. WWF is bringing people together from the hospitality industry, retail, and food services sectors, as well as schools and farms, to explore how to measure and reduce waste from field to table. Addressing Food Loss and Waste has become one of our three major focus areas within WWF’s Food and Markets programs. Food waste is now becoming recognized as a way in which to address both the loss of resources from food production and a means to mitigate food insecurity, but it is also now recognized as a way to mitigate GHG emissions.
In an effort to help schools play a greater role in reducing food waste, WWF developed the Food Waste Warrior (FWW) program under its Wild Classroom education platform in 2017. The program’s mission is simple: to encourage schools to engage students on food loss and waste as part of a conservation curriculum.
Through FWW, students are empowered to discover the impact of food waste through experiential learning – conducting hands-on cafeteria waste audits throughout the school year. They simultaneously experience an integrated science and math conservation lesson plan that highlights the natural resources associated with wasting food, including the wildlife they are passionate about protecting. Relating these impacts back to biodiversity and habitat loss creates a unique and engaging connection for students. Indeed, agriculture’s expanding footprint is the single largest global contributor to biodiversity and habitat loss.
Beyond these immediate impacts, the FWW program also drives change and awareness of food waste throughout communities. The program’s hands-on curriculum engages students first-hand around the connection between waste and the food system’s role in global environmental crises (namely biodiversity loss and climate change). It includes guides and lesson plans to help students become educators in their families and communities to discuss the importance of reducing food waste at home. Finally, this richer and more diverse data set can inform broader policy discussions—such as the School Food Recovery Act—aimed at helping schools to institutionalize food waste measurement and mitigation.
During the pilot phase of the program, participating schools and community organizations, along with WWF, defined a consistent methodology for data collection using previous WWF pilot projects and the USDA’s Guide to Conducting Student Food Waste Audits as a foundation. It was decided that school profiles and aggregate plate waste data would be collected via WWF’s customized online dashboard tool. In fact, one recent study validates that aggregate plate waste data can provide reasonable estimates of cafeteria food waste when compared to more expensive and time intensive studies that individually weigh plate waste.
This database is the largest and most comprehensive school food waste database in the country and WWF seeks to make it an even more accessible citizen science activity for students and schools everywhere.
Areas of Focus for Winter/Spring 2022:
- An MIT intern(s) would work with the WWF Food Waste team to review the current platform and then recommend and implement potential improvements to make it more user friendly and accessible.
- This could include transitioning the data to a new cloud-based database (Airtable) and/or developing a very basic mobile application that would make it easier for students and teachers everywhere to record their food waste data audits into the platform.
Tasks and Responsibilities associated with this position:
- Identify a tool/platform to improve the citizen science experience of students in our Food Waste Warrior program conducting food waste audits that’s highly optimized for mobile device (app or web app) and desktop web app users
- Assess whether existing database to store audit data is suitable or if it should be moved to another and provide recommendations for how to do so
- Analyze existing workflows for the management of schools participating in the program and recommend potential automations and improvements
- Develop MVP of optimizations on mobile and web-app for waste audit collection and dashboarding the results to schools to see the impact and progress of their work (e.g., waste reductions in subsequent audits vs. their baseline, how their waste reduction translates to carbon emission reductions, water saved, meals rescued)
Preferred skills, qualifications, and other requirements:
- Passion for ending food waste and helping inspire the next generation of leaders to combat climate change and transform the food system
- Software development, workflow design, data migration, experience with user-friendly data entry and dashboarding tools, and/or designing simple but dynamic web and mobile applications
Desired length of commitment and hours per week: full time for January/IAP (between 120-160 hours) As part of the Social Impact Internship program, students may be eligible for a stipend of up to $2,000.