Reducing waste and “going green” are major imperatives that many onsite foodservice departments are looking to implement. However, costs and customer resistance to forced changes sometimes hamper these efforts.
At Motorola Corp., a company-wide green initiative prompted the dining department to evaluate its own practices and come up with a practical approach that balances considerations like cost and customer satisfaction with environmental impact, says Carol Bracken-Tilley, manager of hospitality services.
The result in the early going: reductions of disposable cup usage ranging from 21 to 34 percent, and from 20 to 27 percent in clamshell disposables, depending on the unit.
Bracken-Tilley says the department initially decided to set a goal of reducing generated waste and getting rid of petroleum-based packaging across its North American units.
However, when it researched alternatives, it found that the cost of “green” disposables was prohibitive, with recyclable products as much as triple the cost of traditional alternatives.
That's when a middle way approach was put together. “We didn't go completely green,” Bracken-Tilley notes. “We compromised.”
The thrust of the “compromise” program was on reducing the use of disposables by removing them from easy access at most stations and making permanentware the “default option.” Customers could still get disposable takeout containers but would have to ask for them or, where space allows, go to another part of the servery to get them.
“Our research — and we actually did dumpster dives to see what was being thrown out in the café — showed that lots of people used disposable foam containers even though they ate in the dining room,” Bracken-Tilley says. “We wanted to discourage that behavior without eliminating disposable containers for people who wanted to take out. So now, the idea is that you get it on a plate unless you say otherwise.”
The program was piloted at one large site, where customers were prepared with a four-week education campaign that included not just notices and signage but a graphic display of the amount of napkins used in a single year. The program kicked off in January, when customers began having to pay for disposable cups, encouraging the use of permanent tumblers.