Six key learnings from the Footprint Awards 2017

The Footprint Awards are a barometer for the foodservice industry, celebrating the latest innovations and sustainability successes in the industry whilst resetting the bar by highlighting how best practice has become standard practice. Amy Fetzer reveals six key learnings from the 2017 awards.

  1. Tackle the issues consumers care about

Today’s consumer demands authenticity, transparency and tangible action on sustainability. Consumers are increasingly showing their commitment to buying from brands that demonstrate action. Take Unilever. In 2016, its sustainable living brands grew 50% faster than the rest of the business and accounted for 60% of growth. Social consciousness also matters - Euromonitor research has identified ethical living as one of eight global mega trends which represent fundamental shifts in behaviour that are defining consumer markets. And this shift is being felt across foodservice, leading to real change in business practices – a shift demonstrated in many Footprint award entries. As sustainability efforts mature, there is increasing recognition that for efforts to be most effective, the consumer must be brought on board and the issues they care about must be tackled as a priority.

This is one reason why tackling disposable cups were a feature in many of this year’s entries. The issue provoked considerable consumer ire after Hugh’s War on Waste campaign brought the issue into sharp focus. The industry has taken different stands to tackle the problem, from the National Trust’s entry detailing its introduction of a compostable cup to Canary Wharfs’ winning Wake up and smell the coffee campaign which tackled both coffee cups and grounds on the Canary Wharf Estate by changing practices alongside a consumer behaviour change campaign. Whilst it is clear that there is not one-size-fits-all solution across foodservice, the disposable cup dilemma shows that food service is reacting and taking action on the issues that consumers care about.

  1. Take up the challenge for changing consumer behavior

Tackling sustainability issues such as waste can be a challenge when so much can rely on the consumer doing the right thing too, such as putting their rubbish in the right bin. But passing the buck by saying foodservice can’t be expected to change consumers will no longer wash, and the awards showed how foodservice now needs to demonstrate how they’re helping to ensure their products end up in the right places.

Take plastic bottles. Operators can do all they like to make their bottles recyclable, but if the consumer doesn’t buy in and put the bottle in the right bin, efforts can be wasted. One solution can be to make the recycling element of packaging more engaging and interactive. Coca-Cola European Partners and Kinneir Dufort won the Innovations in Packaging award with their ultra lightweight Abbey Well water bottle. The bottle, which used 28% less plastic, has had recycling incorporated into its design so that even just holding the bottle subtly reinforces the message to recycle. A standout ‘Arrow’ curves around the bottle shape encouraging consumers to twist the bottle to compact it and recycle it. The new design means “consumers can interact and engage more with both the brand and with the experience of recycling the bottle,” according to Selina Taylor, head of communications for Coca Cola European Partners, bringing benefits both for the brand and for recycling rates and efficiency.

  1. Tackle issues at source

With supply chain responsibility now the standard, the pressure is on operators to tackle issues at source and this is driving some innovative solutions. One outstanding example is Young’s Foodservice ‘Project Trawlight’ which won the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources prize. This aimed to tackle the issue that with seafood, it is possible to have no idea of the size of each individual fish until it has been landed. In the worst-case scenario and in the worst fisheries, up to 90% of the catch can be too small to harvest. These high levels of discards also reduce trawl efficiency, increase the time taken to sort catches, whilst the capture and subsequent discarding of juvenile fish reduces the reproductive potential of the stock and its resilience during years of poor recruitment. This has a knock-on effect on the future economic potential of fisheries. Project Trawlight aimed to tackle this by trialling the use of light rings. This reduced the number of juvenile fish caught by 40% by placing the lights around the square mesh panel, which allow smaller fish to escape the trawl.

  1. Efforts need to be across the board

As sustainability matures and is increasingly incorporated into everyday business thinking, efforts to tackle issues such as water and carbon impact are becoming less about tinkering around the edges and more about tackling impacts in a cohesive manner.

“What not so long ago was regarded as foresighted innovation is today regarded as the bare minimum,” comments Nick Fenwicke-Clennell, CEO, Footprint Media Group. “It is no surprise that it is the most successful businesses have embraced the concept, changed behavior and are now leading the way forwards towards more a sustainable and responsible industry.”

Take Sodexo’s winning effort in the Education category with Green & Lean sustainable meals which attempt to tackle the health and climate impacts of food served by looking at the ingredients on the plate. By setting limits on resource intensive ingredients such as meat whilst tackling health, waste, and ethical provenance, the range is a tantalizing glimpse of more sustainable meals in practice. Green & Lean has changed the goal posts for the foodservice industry by showing that greener menus are possible, pleasing to consumers and commercially viable. Now the concept needs scaling up and rolling out so that sustainable meals become the standard, not the exception, both within Sodexo and more widely across foodservice.

  1. Look behind the product to the processes

Tackling impacts behind the scenes is another consistent theme. Solutions aren’t always sexy, but can lead to big cost and environmental savings. Logistics, for example, can be a key area for saving money and tackling emissions. Innocent’s winning 1 million miles project aimed to remove 1 million road miles from its logistics by using more efficient routes, new routes to market and alternative, greener methods of transport. The project is estimated to have saved 1.5m miles by mid 2017, and over 2,000 tonnes of CO2.

Eco-friendly laundry service CLEAN’s winning Sustainable Supply Entry demonstrated how every process can be overhauled to be more resource efficient, from using introducing heat recovery from waste water and ironer exhausts to high-efficiency driers with heat recycling and minimised water and chemical consumptions. Introducing such practices have helped to reduce CLEAN’s carbon footprint by 39% and energy consumption by 15%.

Analysing how behaviours in real world environments is also valuable. Hoshizaki’s work in improving fridge energy efficiency by 44% included introducing hands free operation to minimise the amount of time the fridge is left open, something which has a major impact on energy consumption. Another intervention targeted at making everyday practice less wasteful includes the Wrapmaster clingfilm dispenser which reduces cling film waste by 25%.

  1. Collaborate and combine effort

Some of the most powerful drivers of change in foodservice have been the result of collaborations and industry needs to continue to work together to create baselines and produce material that can continue this momentum. One of the most high-profile collaborations is the WRAP driven HaFSA voluntary agreement, which bagged WRAP the Waste award. Some highlights of the agreement include an 11% reduction in food and packaging waste; saving 24,000 tonnes of food from being thrown away, and the redistribution of 760 tonnes (the equivalent to 1.5m meals) of edible food.

Collaborative approaches have also helped tackle consumer touch-point issues such as disposable cups, with voluntary groups such as the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group bringing together key players across industry. This combined industry effort has ensured that the number of places where disposable cups can be recycled have rocketed in the last 12 months to over 4,000 as outlets like Costa Coffee, Starbucks and McDonald’s have worked together with packaging and waste management partners to introduce recycling bins.

“People always tell people who do the right thing that it won’t work and that they won’t be a success,” noted Special Achievement Winner, journalist Charles Clover. “But the Footprint Awards and the amazing innovations they showcase show just how wrong that is. Networks like Footprint work fantastically well at bringing effort, ideas and industry together. I’m still trying to save the world and trying to do something good. These awards show that there are plenty of people doing the same, and together we can make a difference.”

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