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At Latin America’s Largest Food-Tech Company, Gustavo Vitti Spearhead’s iFood’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative

Sure, you can say pursuing sustainability is great –but creating a regenerative future is what the world really needs. iFood, the leader in online food delivery in Latin America, is making advances to go beyond and create an eco-system to achieve zero environmental impact. Gustavo Vitti, Vice President of People and Sustainable Solutions at iFood shares with us the strategic process that will enable them to achieve their goals.

Grit Daily: What steps is iFood taking to complete its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025?

Gustavo Vitti: Compensation measures are part of the process, but they cannot be the most important initiative. To reduce emissions, one of our main initiatives is to increase the use of electric motorcycles and e-bikes. There is little commercial or market viability due to the lack of scale in Brazil. 

To achieve our objective quickly, we are partnering with electric motorcycle companies. The largest of our partners so far will be ready to produce 10,000 units per month in August, and it plans to boost its production capacity to more than 100,000 electric motorbikes by the end of 2022. By the end of 2025, at least 50 percent of the deliveries made by iFood will be using non-polluting vehicles.

In October 2020, we began our partnership with Tembici and launched the “iFood Pedal” program. The program encourages the use of e-bikes by iFood’s delivery partners. Since then, in just six months, it has grown to 500 shared e-bikes used by more than 1,000 couriers using the e-bikes in São Paulo. A new extension of the “iFood Pedal” program has recently launched in Rio de Janeiro. 

All the surplus of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that iFood is not able to reduce will be compensated via carbon credits. For that offset, we have partnered with Moss.Earth, an organization that created the GHG inventory and is dedicated to preserving the Amazon Rainforest using the world’s first green digital asset to raise funds, create new jobs, and encourage new sustainable initiatives. 

Grit Daily: What do you think makes iFood so much more popular than the other competitors? Do you think it’s because people prefer to support/shop with a South American company rather than the popular American one? Does iFood speak to the culture more?

GV: To share some perspective, iFood is now, by far, the largest food-tech and online delivery company in all of Latin America. We are about eight times the size of our nearest Brazilian competitor, Uber Eats. We currently deliver more than 48 million meals a month and serve more than 236,000 restaurants in Brazil. And, we are focused on expansion into Colombia next. 

Several factors set us apart from the competition. First and foremost, we have developed a high-performance culture at iFood that’s dedicated to constantly drumming up new ways of innovating: all with a central focus of improving the iFood experience for our restaurant and delivery partners and our shared customers. 

We accomplish this, in part, with something we call our “Jet Skis” methodology – wherein, after collecting and scoring the best new ideas to try out across the company, we pick the top ones to focus and assign cross-functional teams to be laser-focused on the pilot projects that we decide to try for 3-6 months. If we see promising results, we add more people and resources, turning them into “Speed Boats.” If they don’t work out, also known as a “fast fail,” we kill them. 

Through this cultural methodology, we have developed a broad variety of new offerings and disruptive firsts that set iFood apart. These include some simple, yet brilliant ideas such as iFood Box that lets delivery partners simply leave meal orders in locked boxes designed to keep meals warm on the ground floors of large condominium buildings. They also include much more complex, challenging ones such as being the first food-delivery company in Latin America to pilot drone-assisted food deliveries to bypass São Paulo’s heavy traffic zones to speed half-way delivery to iFood Hubs for couriers to pick up. 

From an end-consumer perspective, especially because everyone in Brazil seems to get hungry at the same time, our investment in advanced AI with one of the largest labs of its kind in the country, helps us optimize their experience when ordering – including more personalization. Pair that up with the broadest variety of restaurants in Brazil, faster delivery service, and a brand that is giving back to society at large – and it’s a winning combination. This is what makes iFood far more popular than our competitors. 

Grit Daily: What makes iFood confident that restaurants will adopt eco-friendly packaging?

GV: For one, we think that, at long last, we are at a tipping point in terms of understanding that now is the time for all of us to care more about this topic than ever before. Climate change is a very real and urgent matter. The amount of plastic, swirling in massive gyres across our global oceans, is also a real, urgent problem. If we do not do something to start mitigating it, and eventually reverse this problem soon, we’ll continue to see our oceans slowly die off, along with a vital source of food for a global population that continues to grow nearly every year. Fish eating dissolved plastic will eventually become poison to us. Beyond the ocean, where can we possibly landfill all this plastic? 

Along with our partners, iFood is developing new forms of eco-friendly packaging that can be recycled more efficiently, including paper and other biodegradable materials. Our goal is to use the massive scale of our food-delivery network to bring the price of the new eco-friendly packaging down in cost to make that less of an issue. 

We have rolled out a new online badge system for “green” restaurants in the iFood network to be promoted in various ways. As Brazilian consumers become more aware and educated on the topic – which we will help on, as well, through a variety of content and campaigns – we believe they’ll increasingly make their purchase decisions with brands and restaurants that demonstrate they care about feeding the future of the world. 

Was sustainability always the goal for iFood, or was this more of a response to a push from consumers?

2020 was a turning point in the history of iFood. With the pandemic, we became an essential service overnight. It was really clear that we were part of an ecosystem that depended a lot on our actions. And so, we developed several support initiatives to keep delivery partners safe and restaurants running. Gradually, we realized that we needed to go further, beyond our ecosystem, and do even more for society at large.

We deeply believe that companies in the future will assume a role beyond their businesses and will focus more on solving problems in our society. As we mature as a company, our responsibility to society grows. Compensation in the form of carbon credits is part of the process, but it cannot be the most important action. 

The realization that iFood must move towards a regenerative future, where we eventually give back more to the environment than what we take from it, led the entire leadership team at iFood to meet with sustainability experts, other companies, and opinion makers to understand the best paths forward before starting our journey and building our sustainability commitment and program to maximize its impact. 

Grit Daily: Can you talk about the development of the recycling facility in São Paulo? Is iFood looking to open more of these? Has it been successful so far?

GV: Recycling is a critical component for us to fulfill our commitments. We will support recycling cooperatives by investing in structural improvements, machinery, and in some cases, we may increase their processing capacity by up to 70 percent. In addition, iFood will invest in the construction of a new semi-mechanized sorting plant in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, which has the potential to greatly increase recycling rates; processing potentially 800 tons monthly when it is operating at full capacity.

We are wrapping up the final agreements and contracts, and expect to have some more news on this by the end of April.

Grit Daily: How successful are in-app attempts at sustainability? Are users declining plastic more often? When enough users decline plastic cutlery, how much of a dent is that making into the amount of plastic waste in Brazil?

GV: We added a feature in the iFood app that lets customers decline plastic cutlery. To start, we began with a few hundred restaurants. We are gradually adding this option to more and more restaurants. This step is an important part of the process, and we believe in encouraging iFood’s end-consumers to have more sustainable habits by offering them a choice of not receiving plastic cutlery and other disposable items. This can make a significant impact. 

In the initial tests of the feature, 90 percent of consumers used the resource, which resulted in the reduction of tens of thousands of plastic cutlery and shows consumers’ desire to receive less waste in their homes. Once we scale up to the whole iFood delivery base, we can have a much larger impact. 

Grit Daily: With all of these new measures, do you really think it is possible for a large company like iFood to not leave an impact on the environment? 

GV: You’re right. Of course, we will have some minimal impact. But, the size of this problem is so much bigger than iFood. However, as part of our efforts over the next five years, we will be encouraging more Latin American companies across various sectors to join our movement. The consequences of us not succeeding on a global scale are dire. The stakes are quite high. 

Most certainly, here in Brazil, we must step up and preserve the Amazon Rainforest. It’s a massive area, covering about 2,300,000 square miles. It is the largest river basin in the world, and it holds the richest and most varied biodiversity anywhere. However, with some 75,000 fires that roared across it during the first half of 2018 and the ongoing issue of human encroachment and deforestation, it needs our attention. 

As I said, we do believe companies can do more to help solve problems that go beyond their business operations. Hopefully, more companies will take action and make a positive impact on society. At iFood, we will put a lot of effort to make sure that we engage our whole food ecosystem in this cause. 

Grit Daily: The CEO of iFood stated in interviews in a lighthearted way that iFood’s biggest competitor is people continuing to cook at home. At the same time, a variety of studies show that cooking and eating at home is far more sustainable than takeout culture. Do you think that iFood’s new sustainability measures can truly make a difference?

GV: Of course, many of us really enjoy cooking and entertaining at home. And, we agree this tradition will carry on in the years to come. However, we think that the movement towards busy people desiring healthy, restaurant-cooked meals at home will continue its overall upward trajectory for some time. 

Due to necessity, people have relied on having more meals delivered to their homes during the pandemic as an essential service. Now, with more than a year in and a difficult time ahead, especially in Brazil, we think there is a fundamental shift in behavior that will stick around after we get back to normal. 

Given that, since most deliveries today in Brazil are made with non-eco-friendly packages and delivered via combustible-engine vehicles, we feel a responsibility to minimize our impact as rapidly as we can. 

If we attain our ambitious goals by 2025, can help inspire, onboard corporations, and help create a new sustainable brand standard that most consumers will prefer to buy from, then yes – we can truly make a difference.

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