It has been said that sustainability runs through the DNA of Sodexo. Arguably, the company is the absolute pin up in this area with its own approach to corporate citizenship and the Better Tomorrow Plan trailblazing its commitment to community, workplace and the environment. Phil Hooper, Corporate Affairs Director, agrees wholeheartedly with this. For Sodexo, sustainability is fundemental to our business. We have been doing a lot to promote sustainability at Sodexo for many years almost intuitively before it became such a big issue, especially for our clients. Then around 2005 we could see that it really was something we should do something constructive about.
We became members of Business in The Community (BITC) which has been promoting sustainability to businesses since the 1980s. We initially based our corporate citizenship strategy on their model with the four pillars of corporate citizenship being community, workplace, marketplace and environment. We set out our stall accordingly. I firmly believe that because the initiative came from the Sodexo board, that gave it a lot of credibility within the organisation. Corporate citizenship has gained momentum in the UK and Ireland operation and now globally through the Better Tomorrow Plan, our sustainability strategy to 2020, says Hooper. We take our values and our roots very seriously at Sodexo. Our founder Pierre Bellon, now Chairman, set up the company in 1966 on the core values he held dear then and these still guide us today.
To spell it out for the uninitiated, Sodexos commitment to corporate citizenship is rooted in a strong philosophy and respect for ethical principles. The company is the community of our clients, customers, employees and shareholders, and our purpose is to exceed their expectations. Since our creation in 1966 our purpose has been to:
Improve the quality of daily life of everyone we serve.
Contribute to the economic, social and environmental development of the communities, regions and countries in which we operate.
Add to that the three core values embraced by Sodexo, namely Service Spirit; Team Spirit; and Spirit of Progress.
At the tail end of 2009 Sodexo moved corporate citizenship onto another level with the launch of the Better Tomorrow Plan, introduced as a new sustainability roadmap for the next 10 years for the Sodexo Group globally. The Group felt it was time to produce a company-wide strategy to work to across the whole business. According to Hooper, It is all about who we are, how we operate as a company, how we engage with our stakeholders, investors and the local communities. There are 14 commitments to action on health, nutrition and well- being, the environment and working with local communities. Its a very challenging undertaking to roll it out over 80 countries, 33,900 sites and a total of 380,000 employees.
The UK, United States and France are further ahead as one would expect. With emerging countries there are of course greater challenges but that is where Spirit of Progress comes in and it is important people arent afraid to make mistakes so long as those mistakes are not perpetuated, says Hooper.To get the message across to so many people in so many diverse locations is a challenge. In the UK and Ireland alone we have 43,000 employees spread over 2,300 locations but we regularly communicate with them all about sustainability and our objectives. The unit managers talk to their teams at their weekly briefings and we also distribute an electronic newsletter looking at aspects of sustainability, which is targeted at unit and district managers. On top of that, Thomas Jelley, Sodexos Corporate Citizenship Manager, puts out quarterly updates with news about the companys activities around sustainability. These also include best practice guidelines, 10 top tips and records stories of success, he says.
Our mission to improve the quality of daily life manifests itself in a thousand different ways. We constantly think about how we can add value to someones life. At our hospital contracts if you are a patient we feed you, of course, but we add value by having our own dieticians liaise with NHS dieticians so we offer the best possible diet. If a patient is well nourished with a well balanced diet that suits their needs, they will recover more quickly. In schools, too, there is huge concern about the nutritional content of meals. Again, we take this very seriously and are committed to serving children balanced and nutritious meals in line with the School Food Trust guidelines.
Through its Better Tomorrow Plan Sodexo has promised to ensure compliance with a Global Sustainable Supply Chain Code of Conduct in all the countries it operates by 2015. Here in the UK, nine out of 10 of our main suppliers have already signed up. We have set a target to source local, seasonal or sustainably grown or raised products in all the countries where we operate by 2015. Here in the UK and Ireland 70 per cent of purchases made from our top six suppliers are manufactured, reared or grown in the UK. In 2009 we became the first corporate member of Red Tractor and we are absolutely committed to supporting British farming. The fresh pork we buy is 100 per cent British, 80 per cent of our fresh beef is British and since November last year fruit, veg and milk is all sourced from the UK. In Scotland we are sourcing from Scottish farms for our Scottish sites.
We also made a pledge to source sustainable fish and seafood in all the countries where we operate by 2015. I am pleased to report that we lead the market with no fewer than 48 Marine Stewardship Council lines listed and over 300 sites certified. We only use products from sustainable fisheries such as Alaskan salmon, pollock, hake and so on. We have de-listed threatened species like swordfish, halibut and skate. We have contracts with the Co-op, Transport for London, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government that go even further, and have been MSC certified, says Hooper.
Maybe customers dont want to pay the premium for sustainable food and drink? Not at all, says Hooper. Most clients dont hold back when they are on board but the important thing is to offer choice. We bring in our own dieticians, organise customer promotions and run themed dining occasions such as British Food Fortnight and Sustainable Seafood Week to get everyone involved. The acid test is to offer choice: if people feel they are being forced into something, that is when they may push back.
Sodexo has also promised to source and promote sustainable equipment and supplies in all the countries where it operates by 2020. In this area Hooper admits a greater challenge because nine times out of 10 Sodexo is operating in a customers building with no control of the budget for new kit and can mostly only advise. Thats a bit more of a tough one but we do everything we can to operate in a sustainable manner, he says. When we take over a contract we have a simple environmental management system ready to be put in place.
Reduction of waste has also been addressed significantly says Hooper. We are collating data and the last full figures we have are for 2008-9 we have a 64 per cent recycling rate, compared to 54 per cent the year before. Used cooking oils are being collected by an approved contractor and produced 351,000 litres for bio diesel which even ends up in clients vehicles, he says.
Hooper explains how local communities are benefiting from the Sodexo Foundation, a UK registered charity that aims to educate and provide relief from hardship in relation to health, nutrition and well-being through its STOP Hunger campaign. Administrative costs are met by Sodexo, but most funds come from the efforts of its staff who organise and participate in events ranging from parachute jumps and running marathons, to tea parties and quiz nights. There is also Sodexos long- standing involvement with FareShare the national charity working to relieve food poverty by redistributing quality surplus food from the food industry to a network of over 500 community organisations that support homeless and other vulnerable people. Not only does this help disadvantaged people, it has cut our food waste bill massively, says Hooper.
Sodexo is proving to be a bit of a serial award winner in the sustainability stakes. For the fourth year running, Sodexos commitment to responsible business practice has been demonstrated through its participation in Business in the Communitys (BITC) CR Index, the leading UK benchmark for responsible business practice.
We are delighted to have retained our silver status in the Top 100 for four consecutive years, where we are top in the foodservice industry. Sustainability is a boardroom issue and we take it very seriously. Through the Better Tomorrow Plan we can demonstrate a clear company-wide commitment to sustainability, concludes Hooper.
Helen Fleming, FareShare Corporate Development Officer says of Sodexos involvement with the charity: FareShare and Sodexo have been working together since 2005 to tackle food poverty in local communities through Sodexos STOP Hunger campaign. This vibrant partnership includes financial support and staff volunteering and sees Sodexo surplus food – where appropriate – re-distributed to disadvantaged people across the UK. Volunteering is at the heart of the partnership. On Volunteer Days, by helping to prepare and deliver surplus food to community organisations, Sodexo staff have the chance to get directly involved with FareShares work on the ground and to make a real difference.