The best sustainability strategies are those that are aligned with an organisation’s goals and impacts, and which don’t shy away from stretching targets. So what can be learned from Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow 2025? Amy Fetzer reports.
It’s all about impact. When setting sustainability strategy, the key question that should be asked is: what and where are the most significant impacts of your operations and services? This is why the likes of Unilever are so focused on washing temperatures when looking at reducing the impacts of their laundry cleaners, and it is why Coke, more controversially, has a strong focus not only on reducing sugar but also on supporting sports and active lifestyles.
Sodexo also appears to have taken this maxim to heart. Its relaunched Better Tomorrow 2025 takes a firm focus on the issues on which it impacts the most, then sets stretching targets to tackle them by 2025.
It has also worked to align corporate policy with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, identifying which targets can be impacted most by its business. This provides strength because the SDGs provide a lens to identify and address the myriad of risks and challenges facing global society now and into the future.
For a business that is focussed on feeding and looking after people, often in other people’s settings, and as the world’s 19th largest employer, it is no surprise that Sodexo has therefore chosen to prioritise health, well-being and safety, as well as waste. This has been translated into three broad ambitions of tackling hunger and nutrition, promoting gender balance and preventing waste. These are underpinned by nine commitments, and, importantly, measurable targets.
Focussing on health, which continues to be a dominant mega-trend, is a no-brainer. In the BHAs Foodservice Market Report 2017 healthier eating was the most dominant eating out trend. 90% of FSM leaders identified it as a primary driver shaping business decisions and investment in the sector. Customers also want help to be healthy, with Nestle research finding that 56% of casual diners would be more willing to go to a restaurant offering healthy menu options. So meeting this need makes excellent business sense.
“Employees are our greatest asset’ is a mantra that echoes around almost every boardroom,” notes Sean Haley, regional chair, Sodexo UK & Ireland. “But an asset is a building, a table, or a car, it is something that is tangible and typically behaves in the same way over and over again. People are not like this, we are all different, we have preferences, we have likes and dislikes and nutritionally we have differing needs. At Sodexo, we continue to build on our health and wellbeing philosophy. We want to make sure everyone puts health and wellness at the top of the agenda for themselves, their family, friends and colleagues.”
So Sodexo has set itself the target of ensuring that 100% of its customers are offered healthy lifestyle options every day. Serving over 1 million meals a day, across a range of outlets and environments, a 100% target leaves no wriggle room, but demanding targets should be applauded.
One way Sodexo is hoping to do this is through its Peas Please commitments, a Food Foundation initiative which focusses on getting industry and government to make veg more available, affordable and acceptable to consumers. Research by Peas Please found that over 80% of adults and 95% of children eat too little veg - we need 12 million more portions consumed every day in out of home. This is a health priority - eating too little veg contributes to 20,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.
Sodexo’s commitments include increasing the volume of vegetables procured by 10% by 2020; and by 16% by 2025; refining recipes to be more vegetable focused; continuing to develop sustainable meals and supporting the promotion of vegetable-focused menus across its sites.
Some of this will happen through its Green & Lean meal range. This sustainable meal range, which recently scooped a Footprint Award, has now been rolled out to 40 independent schools, with expansion to other sectors planned.
Food production and distribution, including growing crops and raising livestock, manufacturing fertiliser, and storing, transporting and refrigerating food and land use change, is responsible for between a fifth and a third of global emissions. This means Sodexo is smart to tackle the food on the plate, as it will also help its efforts to achieve its goal of a 34% reduction in carbon emissions.
The Green & Lean range has strict criteria. Two thirds of the plate should be made up of vegetables, pulses and grains. Meat must be responsibly sourced and should make up no more than a third of the plate – a sensible premise when meat packs a weighty carbon punch. Fruit and vegetables used are seasonal. All grains must be wholegrain, sugar and salt are added sparingly, and waste is minimised. And all of this must be achieved at no extra cost. The fact that this has been achieved showed industry that it is possible, and it has been credited with helping to drive a shift towards sustainable meals across foodservice.
The great thing is that Green & Lean meals are also healthier, thus helping to tackle another of society’s great challenges, the obesity epidemic. And, according to Edwina Hughes and Robin Turner, the CR manager and development chef behind the meals, the dishes are going down a storm. Students and clients are embracing the ranges with gusto, showing that it is possible to achieve that marvellous alchemy of marrying health, sustainability and customer satisfaction. Thought the team admit it has been a challenge.
“Green & Lean developed out of a collaboration between the corporate responsibility function at Sodexo UK & Ireland and the food team at WWF UK,” explains Hughes. “Now, four years on, we are integrating the learning from our work to date to inform our food development work globally. It’s been wonderful to see this move from a small pilot into something that is influencing the way we feed people across the world.”
Another big focus of Sodexo 2025 is Sodexo’s 425,000 employees. The Better Tomorrow commitments include ensuring 100% of employees are trained on sustainable practices, and that 100% work for gender balanced management teams. Such employee-focussed approaches might sound warm and fuzzy, but focusing on talent is savvy as it is an ongoing industry problem.
“Across sectors and industry, talent, and the engagement of that talent, is the biggest issue,” says Haley. “To do good business, you need people who work for you to feel a part of you, to buy into your ethics and values.” This is even more impactful as a service provider who can have a major impact on its clients’ workforce too. “Our clients,” continues Haley, “understand our services have a major impact on their staff and customers. These can range from soldiers to public sector staff, students to patients and health care professionals, and so on.”
The business benefits of valuing talent are quantifiable. For example, prioritising gender balancing means that Sodexo UK and Ireland have 47% women in management positions. Sodexo’s own research showed that gender balanced management groups (with 40-60% women) perform better in workplace groups than groups without this balance. McKinsey research found the same thing, with companies with better gender diversity 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.
Even the commitment to getting employees involved in volunteering projects has helped with staff engagement. Haley notes how being involved in projects such as refurbishing a hostel for the homeless or sorting donated food at a food bank boosts engagement and makes staff “feel great about themselves”.
Waste is another big focus, with a target that by 2025, 100% of Sodexo’s countries must be partnering to deliver on the UN food waste goal. “There’s a strong commercial reason to control waste,” says Haley. “It impacts a lot on the business. Taking action is necessary.”
Sodexo’s UK pilot, Wastewatch, which uses the food waste tracking technology LeanPath, succeeded in reducing the food waste at participating sites by 48%, dramatically cutting costs too. WRAP estimates that more than 1.3 billion meals are wasted annually in UK’s hospitality and food service sector, and can cost up to 97p per meal, depending on the sector. Waste is also a very emotive subject for staff and consumers, so taking a proactive approach to tackle it has wider benefits in terms of staff motivation and engagement, as well as for brand value.
For a business that is focussed on feeding people, its logical to also focus on hunger. About 793 million people are undernourished globally, something the Sustainable Development Goals aim to change. Sodexo has set itself the target to ensure that 100m beneficiaries are impacted by Stop Hunger’s activities by 2025. Working in 40 countries, through the initiative Sodexo donates time, skills and money to tackle hunger, support good nutrition and promote life skills in local communities. Last year, these efforts raised £496,000 whilst globally, Sodexo distributed about 5.7 million meals and collected USD 4.6 million to support the actions of 875 local NGOs. It’s a good example of a business taking impactful action on an issue central to its business.
Focussing on your biggest impacts and the areas you can influence really matters – it’s not about spin. When it comes to setting sustainability strategy, it helps to routinely take a step back and remember the bigger picture, and there are constant reminders of the urgent need to take action. In December, Nature published a sobering new paper in which lead scientists predicted that there is 93 per cent chance that global warming will exceed 4C by the end of this century, making worst-case global warming predictions the most accurate. It is more urgent than ever that all businesses work to take strong and tangible action. Ensuring effort is directed at each business’s biggest impact, whilst sharing knowledge and fostering collaboration, will be the most effective way for foodservice to play its part in keeping the planet pleasant, for ourselves, and for generations to come.