Times are a-changing in the foodservice industry with increasing awareness of the pressure we are putting on the environment and natural resources. a greater consciousness has risen, from the consumer right through to the producer, and questions are being asked on the impact our industry is having. Many companies have implemented changes and started to talk about the differences they are making and investments undertaken to reduce their carbon footprint. But is the consumer bothered? It does seem that more and more consumers are basing their buying decisions around ethical and environmental criteria. In The Times recently a survey stated that 80% of those asked were (in the next twelve months) likely to buy food with less packaging; 59% are going to buy more Fair Trade products; and 71% aimed to buy more locally sourced food. Interestingly still, consumer conscience seems not to waver even if they have to cut back on their spending: 65% still said they would still try to buy the most ethical and environmentally friendly products they could (35% would be more focused on best value for money). Whilst these questions were targeted at the retail sector it does give a strong indication that consumer attitudes are undoubtedly moving into the purchasing habits of those eating out. This is different to other influencers in the market, many of which are more based around lifestyle choice such as healthy eating and vegetarian. Ethical and environmental decisions are emotive and therefore can have a greater impact on a customers perception of a brand. But how ready is the foodservice sector for this demand from the consumer? In-roads are being made and more products are appearing on menus that give customers a choice. Brakes and its specialist business M&J Seafood are now offering fish with Marine Stewardship Council accreditation, reassuring customers that the fish they are being served was sourced from sustainable, well-managed fisheries. Last year Brakes sold over 500,000kg of sustainable fish to caterers, and having launched its first product in 2003 it now has a range of over 30 available. That isnt all Brakes is doing. Those interested can now access information on the initiatives Brakes has undertaken via its corporate website www. brakesgroup.co.uk. Its Corporate and Social Responsibility section (CSR) gives customers an overview of how Brakes is making a difference, including examples of the companys strategy in reducing waste, food miles, packing, recycling, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Customers can also download a copy of its Environmental And Social Responsibility brochure. But what can companies do? and will it really make a difference? Being committed to making changes is perhaps the most important step in achieving anything. All Brakes staff are encouraged to think about the environment, and the company has put in place a culture that encourages staff to follow the recycling code Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover. This is encouraged, not just within their distribution sites, but also within head offices. In fact the companys head office recycled over 16 tonnes of waste in 2007 and its total network achieved 3,000 tonnes. But it doesnt stop there. In 2007 Brakes launched a new-style outer carton named the topless box, that will potentially reduce cardboard use by over 20% from its most popular frozen products. After a successful pilot using the new style cartons Brakes estimate that, once rolled out into its key frozen lines, the cardboard saved will equate to two boxes the size of the Empire State Building. Even what could be seen as small changes can make big differences. Pauleys, Brakes specialist fresh produce supplier, changed the pack weight on strawberries from a 250g pack to 400g, resulting in reducing the packaging by nine tonnes in cardboard and plastic alone and a saving of nearly four tonnes of packaging per year by buying beansprouts in pillow pack bags rather than in punnets. These numbers demonstrate how worthwhile it is to look at even the most innocuous areas of your business, as you may be surprised what you can achieve. Of course many people want to evaluate a companys carbon footprint, and once again Brakes is tackling this directly. Some 95% of electricity purchased is generated from renewable sources, 60% of its fleet runs on a biodiesel fuel mix, route planning systems being piloted are currently delivering around 8% fuel savings and even Brakes support of local charities has an environmental benefit. Brakes helped launch three walking buses in Kent in 2007. Each walking bus encourages children to walk to and from school rather than their parents driving them. Each child is given a high visibility vest and information about road safety before they join the bus, made up of parents and children as it follows its route to school. The project teaches road safety, reduces traffic at peak times and reduces carbon emissions from fewer parents driving their children to school. On average each bus saves 30 to 50 school runs per day (average 1 mile each way). Over a school year this equates to a 20,000 mile reduction in car journeys per walking bus. These examples show how the industry is changing, though it is essential that transparency and integrity remains. Each and every part of the industry has a role to play or can make a difference. Whether it is the producer, the manufacturer, the supplier or the operator, small and big changes can make a difference and ensure consumers can eat with confidence when they go out.