Glass half full: green gourmets, Belgian brainwave and Iceland’s rainforest ruckus

Welcome to our new feature celebrating the good news stories from sustainable foodservice. By Nick Hughes.

The past month has provided multiple reasons to feel pretty desperate about the state of the planet – from the IPCC report that set out in stark terms how little time we have left to avert catastrophic climate breakdown, to WWF’s Living Planet report which detailed how consumption patterns have driven 60% of the world’s animal species to extinction.

Footprint has never shied away from highlighting the role the food system plays in exacerbating the challenges facing the natural world; nor shining a light on how our diets are fuelling an obesity crisis that is stretching health services across the developed (and even the developing) world to their limits.

But equally, we mustn’t lose sight of the good work businesses, charities and other groups are doing to make their own operations that little bit more sustainable.

As governments and institutions grapple with the question of how we move the entire global economy on to a sustainable track, it’s vital that businesses keep working to reduce their own impact on the planet. In fact, given the divisive political landscape and the reluctance of many world leaders to address the more controversial and challenging economic shifts required, businesses may well have to set the pace. And if investment forecasts are anything to go by, it will be the environmental and social pioneers that reap the economic benefits.

The purpose of our new, regular Glass Half Full feature is to celebrate the small actions that, when combined, create momentum for positive change.

So tell us your good news stories, and we’ll feature them as a reminder of what can be achieved when the industry takes its responsibilities seriously.

Chef competitions are a staple of the foodservice calendar and they are increasingly embracing sustainability. This year’s LexChef, Lexington Catering’s annual chef competition, is putting the environment at the heart of the contest by requiring competitors to source their ingredients as responsibly and sustainably as possible. Competitors will have 30 minutes’ prep time and two hours’ cooking time to produce a vegetarian starter and any main course for two people. They will be assessed on the extent to which they use sustainable breeds, cuts and byproducts, and utilise and repurpose products used on site that generally end up being thrown away, such as coffee grounds, barista milk, juicing pulps, fish bones and misshapen veg. Judges including James Golding, the group chef director of The Pig Hotel; Mark Flanagan, the head chef of Buckingham Palace; and the pastry chef Claire Clark MBE will be looking for innovation, seasonality, technique, skill, presentation of dishes and combination of flavours when the cooking commences on November 29th. May the greenest chef win!

Hubbub has been building a reputation for delivering innovative environmental campaigns (see its recent Meat your Match collaboration with BaxterStorey) and last week the charity reported encouraging progress during the first month of its #LeedsByExample campaign, which tests the latest thinking on how to increase recycling rates for food and drinks packaging. Among the headline figures are a reduction in contamination of high-street recycling bins with other waste from 42% in week one to 27% in week three, and the collection of more than 800 plastic bottles during the first 10 days in four recycling reward machines located across the city.

As governments the world over try to grapple with the challenge of food waste, there are plenty of experts who believe waste – and food policy in general – can best be tackled at a city level. The Belgian city of Bruges is blazing a trail that others might follow with an ambitious strategy which aims to tackle the 750,000kg of edible food wasted in the city every year. Three years on, the project has delivered some notable successes which have been detailed in a case study by Zero Waste Europe. Fish from the local market which used to go to waste is now made into burgers by a local cooking school and served in hospitals, schools and other public institutions. A food waste reduction plan for local hospitals and care centres has reduced food waste by up to 43%, and a scheme to enable shops and restaurants to sell their leftovers at a discount price at closing time has resulted in a 10% saving of all food surplus. Allez les Belges!

At a time when fresh reports are surfacing of worker exploitation in the palm oil sector in Indonesia and Malaysia, Nestlé has partnered with the Sime Darby Plantation to create a new helpline for palm oil workers to report incidences of labour abuse. The mobile worker survey platform allows workers at the company’s Malaysian estates to report concerns with working conditions, recruitment, safety and other labour issues via channels such as Facebook Messenger and SMS. The helpline, which was developed with the Responsible Business Alliance, is said to be the first service of its kind in the palm oil sector.

And finally, in the ultimate “glass half full/glass half empty” story, Iceland’s brave and inspiring decision to run a Christmas advert drawing attention to the habitat destruction caused by palm oil production has been banned for being too political. The animated advert, produced by Greenpeace this summer, tells the story of an orang-utan that appears in a young girl’s bedroom and causes chaos. When the girl asks the orang-utan why it is in her room, the film shifts to a scene in a rainforest where the orang-utan’s home has been destroyed to make way for a palm oil plantation. The ad’s purpose is to highlight Iceland’s pledge to remove all palm oil from its own-brand products. However, Clearcast, the industry body that enforces UK advertising standards on behalf of the four commercial TV broadcasters, ruled that the advert breaches rules prohibiting political advertising, including campaigning for the purposes of influencing legislation. Iceland’s decision to remove palm oil has not been universally supported by NGOs, some of which believe sustainability is best achieved through certification. However, for the supermarket to draw attention to an environmental issue at a time of year when rivals are actively encouraging us to overconsume is a huge statement of intent. And Iceland may have the last laugh. The ad has been viewed more than 4m times on the retailer’s YouTube page at the time of writing and received the kind of publicity that even an ad slot in the middle of The X Factor can’t buy.

Share your good news stories with us at editorial@footprint.digital

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