Convention centers, with their high volume and high visibility, are in a prime position to “walk the talk” of sustainability, as seen at New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the sixth largest convention center in the nation, where food service is managed by Centerplate.
Already, the majority of plates, cups and bowls used at the convention center are compostable, and the 1.1-million-square-foot venue is a leader in composting in Louisiana, composting more than 450,000 pounds of food and serveware in 2018.
Recently, composting efforts were stepped up even more, with a focus on the employee cafeteria.
Linda Baynham, director of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at the convention center, spearheaded a new composting initiative, her first big project since she began her role in October.
The project includes new composting bins at the Riverside Café, where employees dine. The bins allow employees to save compostable items—food scraps, compostable serveware—and properly recycle items that can’t be composted, like plastic.
Centerplate has partnered with the Composting Network, a local company that turns compost from New Orleans-area restaurants into pesticide-free nutrients for community gardens. While the goal is to divert garbage that would otherwise head to a landfill, Baynham sees a further reaching impact for the project.
“This is a big step forward to saving thousands of pounds of compostable items from going to a landfill,” Baynham says. “We’re doing a lot more than just asking people to put their items in the right bin. We’re helping the environment, our local small businesses and creating real, positive change in the habits of those who want to help the environment.”
To kick off the employee composting initiative, members of the executive and facilities teams donned spoon and fork costumes to demonstrate their commitment, while leading a class full of visual aides to train staff on the items to compost.
The event also spotlighted more of Centerplate’s sustainability practices and information that can be used to help event planners provide a sustainable venue for their meetings. Used cooking oil is recycled at the convention center (turned into soap and other supplies) and the convention center also reduces food waste by donating unused meals to external partners like Second Harvest Food Bank and Bethel Colony South Transformation Ministries, a residential substance abuse treatment program for men and women.