Climate change discourse has finally entered the mainstream and become a single-issue voter policy for many. From Gen Z to Baby Boomers, we’ve seen the wider world waking up and paying attention to climate issues, actively participating in preserving our environment. One significant climate concern is food waste.
Studies show that food wastage significantly impacts our climate, thanks to the waste of energy and resources that go into producing food that unfortunately ends up in a landfill. Food waste is a significant issue in Australia, costing our economy $36.6 billion a year and contributing up to ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
At a global level, the United Nations has been putting pressure on governments worldwide to reach the goal of halving food waste by 2030. This push by the UN on climate change has allowed for new and exciting socially relevant research to help reduce carbon emissions.
Griffith University graduate, Jeawon Kim, is part of this push for change. She works at the United Nations Climate Technology Center and Network in South Korea, an implementation arm of UNFCCC Technology Mechanism hosted by the UN Environment Programme.
This centre supports the delivery of technology solutions to ensure sustainable water, energy and food resources, helping to increase climate adaptation and reduce carbon emissions in 169 developing countries those who voluntarily signed the Paris Agreement.
Jeawon’s trajectory into her role at the UN stemmed from her interest in tackling the food waste problem. And it was at Griffith that Jeawon was able to nurture this interest, undertaking a double degree in psychological science and business.
“Choosing Griffith over other universities made sense,” she said. In blending social science and marketing together, the degree gave Jeawon the knowledge of psychological principles to understand human motivations and barriers, and social marketing principles to effect positive behaviour change.
Jeawon was also able to draw from her previous life in South Korea and bring a fresh perspective to Australia’s waste problem.
“The food waste recycling rate in Korea is 95% which is the world’s best. It’s a result of 20 years of the Korean government’s investment in infrastructure, technology, knowledge building, and community participation.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s, Jeawon embarked on her PhD journey at Griffith, wasting no time to dedicate herself to the research topic of tackling food waste.
“When the time to decide on the next step after graduation came, I decided to dedicate my early research career to discovering what works and does not in reducing food waste at a household level.”
As part of her PhD, she played a key role in the implementation of Waste Not Want Not, a program to reduce food waste by helping households repurpose their leftovers, funded by the program partner Redland City Council.
“Through this journey, I was trained to apply mixed research methods in building evidence of social marketing effectiveness in increasing voluntary change of behaviour to benefit society. And most importantly, it left me with great friends and colleagues who share the same passion.”
After completing her PhD, Jeawon found her calling back in Korea. Now she works at the UN in a position where she can influence the UN’s stance on climate change and food waste. By using a mix of psychological science and social marketing, Jeawon hopes to create change at the government, consumer and industry levels.
“As a social marketer working under the climate technology mechanism, the key to enacting change at a national level is in building a common consensus among all players in the system – from policy-makers to industries and business owners, technology experts, and citizens.”
“I work with policymakers in developing countries, climate finance experts, and knowledge partners to assist in the design of effective technology projects that serve the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”
Jeawon is part of a team that is advancing 400+ projects in developing countries within Asia and Africa, with the plan to implement new technology and infrastructure. These projects aim to provide countries with better sustainable water, energy and food resources to help reduce world hunger and carbon emissions.
By the end of 2027, Jeawon’s team are striving to support the transformation of 169 developing countries’ water-food-energy networks, energy systems, buildings, e-mobility, and business and industry sectors.
“Science is informing us that we have only seven years to fix our wrongdoings. Solutions are already available, it’s a matter of using them for the right purpose and efficiently. Disruption is uncomfortable, change is uncomfortable, and facts are uncomfortable. But ‘feeling uncomfortable’ cannot be the excuse not to act on it.”
If you are interested in studying at Griffith University or participating in socially relevant research that can impact the future, be sure to check out their website to learn more.