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Viewpoint: Applying sustainability to your operation

How do we define sustainability? It’s meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by:

• Increasing productivity to meet future food and fiber demands
• Improving the environment
• Improving human health
• Improving the social and economic well-being of agricultural communities.               

Sustainability is a broad term that can pertain to many areas, from food security and production, to energy and water, to generating stable societies through education and gender equality. The sustainability story should come full circle and communicate how it meets the needs of people, planet and profit.

Modern agriculture is the ability to provide for the needs of the world’s current population without damaging the ability of future generations to provide for themselves. When a process is sustainable, it can be carried out over and over without negative environmental effects or impossibly high costs to anyone involved.

Per reports, at 35 percent, food preparation is the leading source of energy consumption in the food and beverage business, followed by HVAC at 28 percent, sanitation at 18 percent, lighting at 13 percent and refrigeration at 6 percent. While talking about sustainability, it is imperative to take the entire lifecycle of each product, process and operation into consideration. The goal of all stakeholders should be zero waste.

Here’s how you can apply sustainability to your operation:

• Technology is providing new options to help consumers make better food choices and/or eat healthier.

Seasonal and simple

• Consumption and waste management so we can better manage our usage, so we don’t deplete things in nature so quickly.  This can be accomplished by increased focus on:

• Recycling
• Composting
• Technology to micro-manage energy consumption
• Menu reflecting “in season” items
• Plant-based menus
• Energy-efficient preparation
• Local sourcing to reduce transportation impact
• Better/less packaging, eco-friendly packaging
• Smarter purchasing of items that have a smaller impact, i.e., a bulk, loose pack vs. individually portioned
• Leaf to root, another way to trim food waste (and potentially boost profits) by getting the most out of produce. At the same time, health-conscious diners and creative chefs are promoting vegetables to the center of the plate, either in place of meat or in a completely new role
• Eco-friendly modes of transportation (food trucks, delivery)
• Rooftop or inside hydroponics gardens-offers controlled amounts, variety, choice, seasonality and even engagement with communities 
• Food waste partnerships, e.g., Copia, Food harvest.
• Food-waste diversion, converting what is considered waste (e.g., spent grain the by-product of brewing beer, juice pulp, ugly fruit, etc.) into viable food products (e.g., snacks, jams, etc.). Overall these enterprises have diverted thousands of pounds of waste that normally goes to landfills, a major source of greenhouse emissions. Note: It is estimated that 63 million tons of food are wasted per year in the U.S.

Sustainability remains a hot button for consumers, with many saying they prefer to patronize businesses that follow responsible practices. Operators face sustainability challenges at every turn, from food waste to product sourcing and energy usage. You play a vital role in shaping a healthier, more sustainable future with a food system that is responsive to consumers' growing interest in their food and its origins. Contributing to the sustainability of our planet is an important component of your bottom line.

Marsha Diamond, MA, RDN is the president and CEO of M. Diamond LLC. The company’s mission is to assist foodservice businesses improve their brand loyalty and increase sales by blending the right solutions to deliver the right products and services.

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