Sustainability remains a priority despite the pandemic
Market trends driving commitments to sustainability issues such as waste reduction, recycling, local sourcing and clean energy use accelerated when COVID hit in early 2020. While the pandemic has forced on-site restaurant operators to make significant adjustments in how, where and when they serve food, adherence to sustainability policies and practices has never quite left the room , although at times they have had to be compromised, for example by temporarily switching to the use of non-compostable disposables rather than permanent items or recyclable alternatives.
Leading industry players are leading the way, developing strategies, deploying products and creating sustainable processes which due to the market reach of these mega-companies in most on-premise segments and their influence with suppliers, help to orient cultural and industrial expectations towards a more sustainable perspective. in catering environments.
Most recently, the industry’s largest subcontractor, Compass Group, announced a series of net zero commitments that will require it to achieve carbon neutrality in its global operations by 2030 and net zero gas emissions at greenhouse effect in all of its operations and its value chain by 2050. The first step of this latest commitment is a 46% reduction from 2019 levels in greenhouse gas emissions from scopes 1 and 2 by 2030. The strategies will include the transition of its fleet to electric vehicles, the switch to renewable electricity, the switch from menus to more vegetable proteins, reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 and develop a global supply chain without deforestation and land conservation.
Compass’s Bon Appetit Management Co. unit went even further, announcing a new commitment on climate change last summer that mandates a 38% reduction in emissions, per calorie of food, by 2030.
The world’s second largest contractor, Sodexo, recently made its own commitments to a net zero target, with an initial target of 34% carbon emissions reductions from 2017 levels by 2025. It has also been committed to making a third of its meals vegan in the UK and Ireland by 2025, another step towards more plant-based menus that follow recent moves in this direction in the US, like its deal with Kellogg’s Away From Home to bring Morningstar Farms Incogmeato meatless hamburger patties to over 3,000 Sites operated by Sodexo. Sodexo has also integrated its Rustic Roots concept, which features several hundred plant-based entrees and was developed by its chefs at Bridgewater State University, into the recently renovated Raymond Dining Hall at Providence College.
Meanwhile, Aramark, the third of the âBig Threeâ, continues to pursue the goals set several years ago with its 2025 Be Well, Do Well sustainable development plan aimed at minimizing food waste, operating efficiently, reduce packaging and source ethically, inclusively and responsively, recently updating this effort to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 15% by the end of 2025 compared to its 2019 benchmark, thus reducing its carbon footprint. More recently, it announced a partnership with the World Resources Institute to roll out the latter’s Cool Food Meals badge indicating climate-friendly choices on its menus, and earlier this fall, on National Seafood Month. in October, announced a new commitment to increase local sourcing of seafood in New England through a partnership with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
Other sub-contractors are also in the business. For example, Delaware North oversees food and beverage operations at the all-new Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, the world’s first net Zero Carbon certified arena.
Elior Group has set itself the objective of increasing the percentage of responsible purchases it makes in the form of labeled, local and organic products, increasing the percentage of responsible packaging and consumables, and collectively meeting the challenges the fight against deforestation and respect for animal welfare. A few years ago it switched to sustainably caught salmon under the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.
An analysis of the websites of the top 50 contract management companies at FM 2021 reveals that most have some sort of company policy statement committing them to pursuing sustainability goals ranging from serving more local and organic products to reduction of waste and energy consumption. .
These are objectives also pursued by the independent catering services in all the local markets. Here is an overview of some major areas of activity …
Minimizing food waste has recently become not only an ethical but also a financial imperative.
According to a recent study by the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, food waste on college campuses is driven by three key factors: uncertainty about whether a guest will like a certain item, the differences between actual and perceived hunger, and the search for variety. He suggests strategies such as preference surveys, sampling, and smaller portions as possible solutions. Additionally, the use of tray-less dining models in campus all-you-can-eat dining venues has helped curb excessive food consumption.
For colleges and other segments, Compass Group’s most recent Stop Food Waste Day, held last spring, identified areas such as awareness, employee engagement and measurement protocols as effective areas in which to focus waste reduction efforts. Meanwhile, current trends towards more pre-orders, even in K-12 environments, are helping kitchens control production and better align with actual demand rather than relying on guesswork.
Meanwhile, all the waste that is inevitably generated is increasingly mitigated through strategies such as composting and even on-site biodigester units that keep organic waste out of landfills. Surplus production that remains consumable is reused for socially beneficial purposes, such as donations to pantries.
The increase in purchases from local suppliers increased even before the pandemic, and in the current environment, some operators are even finding that these sources close to home are sometimes more reliable than the traditional national networks they used. Because the length of the journey that a product takes to reach the user has a significant impact on its carbon footprint, this phenomenon has many environmental benefits in addition to promoting local economies and obtaining an extremely fresh product for consumers. end users.
Some operators are even becoming hyper-local, creating their own gardens on rooftops, in unused outdoor spaces and even inside cafes, where towers, verticals and micro-farms seem to proliferate. Others build greenhouses for year-round production where winter conditions hamper crop growth. In hospitals, on-site gardens supplement internal and community needs for fresh produce. Especially for schools, local or on-site production has not only a supply but educational benefits, especially if the students themselves take part in the initiative.
Photo credit: Auburn Dining
Photo: Shipping containers filled with vertical hydroponic gardens will provide campus diners with thousands of pounds of green salad and demonstrate a possible route for local farmers at Auburn University.
Local and on-site sourcing naturally extends to other product categories. Dairy and baked goods are traditionally sourced locally in many cases, but some operators are also turning to nearby suppliers for their protein needs. Some even raise their own flour and some move on to other areas such as grinding their own flour.
Ethical sourcing is similar to local sourcing on the sustainability priority scale, which can mean a number of things, from using local vendors or minority / female-owned vendors to purchasing products that have been produced using ethical production practices, such as cage-free eggs. âAnd labor â such as fair trade coffees and teas â or products that do not harm the environment, such as sustainable seafood or meats from non-endangered species.
The rise of plant-based meals is an area of ââsourcing and ethical practices that is growing on the consumer side, as it also has implications for healthier eating. Eating less meat is associated with a beneficial environmental impact due to the effect of raising animals for food on land, water and the production of greenhouse gases. As a result, commitments to increase plant-based menu choices have multiplied, driven not only by consumer demands but also by economic considerations as animal protein prices rise.
Recent examples include the opening of an herbal cafe at the University of Connecticut and the commitment of a high school in Minnesota to specific goals by increasing plant-based menus by being the first high school to sign the Food Forward Pledge.