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Digging into Sustainability

Digging into Sustainability

Waste reduction, energy management, recycling and composting strategies dominated SFM’s annual Critical Issues Conference in mid-April.

Over 220 Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) members gathered in midtown Manhattan on April 15 for the association's annual Critical Issues Conference, which this year provided them with expert views on how they could make their operations more sustainable, energy efficient and socially responsible.

In opening remarks, SFM president Kathy Sanders noted the significant impact such efforts are having on business dining as well as the cost management and customer convenience challenges they sometimes represent. SFM chose the topic, she said, to help its members deal with the sometimes difficult management issues that underlie efforts to make foodservice operations greener and more sustainable.

“Sustainability is something everyone is this room all knows a little something about, and so do our clients,” observed keynote speaker Arlin Wasserman, vice president of corporate responsibility for Sodexo.

“The challenge is that this consumer awareness of sustainability can mean something different to every person, and often involves a melding of terms such as healthy, fresh, local and sustainable so that they are used almost interchangeably.”

“Customers are asking, ‘Where did our food come from? How much energy was involved in producing it? What implication do organics have for my health and my family's health? How much waste are we producing and where does it end up?’”

Another trend is that sustainability is becoming an increasingly personal issue, he added, “and food's role in the movement is a big reason for that.

“Over one billion people work in the food sector worldwide, and food production accounts for 34 percent of water use in the U.S. and about 40 percent globally. Food production accounts for more than 10 percent of energy use in the U.S. and 10-15 percent globally. What we do in foodservice is not just highly visible — there is no industry sector that has a greater impact, or a greater opportunity to make an impact, than we do.”

Wasserman also put such concerns into historic context, noting that while some of them dated back to Teddy Roosevelt's era, “the stock market today is foreshadowing a change in our markets as we begin to reward more sustainable business models and the companies that support them.”

As a real life example, Wasserman offered “A Tale of Two Cheeseburgers,” an examination that contrasted the high-end and low-end energy inputs that could be used to produce this most ordinary of foodservice offerings.

“Energy inputs accumulate from field to table,” he said. “The energy needed for food production often exceeds the energy contained in the food product. Then, in addition to our kitchen, our supply chain is also a major contributor.

“In this case, the total energy inputs to produce a cheeseburger are between 1,743 and 4,454 calories, while each cheeseburger contains 310 calories of food energy.

“Remember,” he concluded, “today, food has become an important way with which people express their values.

“Our profession is closely observed and it means we have a chance to lead and inspire. It is also a way for our companies to express their values and to become sustainability thought leaders.”

Waste, water and other matters

Other presentations at the conference drilled down into the practical aspects of specific operational strategies. Barbara Boden, vice president of global dining and conference services at JPMorgan Chase, moderated a panel on waste reduction, composting and recycling, with panelists exploring how these initiatives could be integrated into foodservice operations.

“We sometimes come to accept waste as something that is just a cost of doing business,” said Andrew Shakman, one of the panelists and president and CEO of LeanPath, Inc.

“Waste is an indicator of inefficiency and our goal should be to eliminate the idea of its inevitability.”

A final panel looked specifically at how energy and water use can be better managed in foodservice operations. In particular, it contrasted particular equipment choices, technologies and paybacks and tools operators can use to evaluate them.

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