Foodservice Footprint looks back at the noughties and finds that the industry has spawned a plethora of measures and initiatives to further the quest for sustainability in foodservice.
The past 10 years have seen a tremendous growth in sustainable initiatives in foodservice be they in the development of energy efficient, ecologically friendly kitchen equipment and facilities or sustainably- grown and sourced food and drink to cater for pubic demand in this area. But how far have we really moved on in that time? Are we really getting there or are we just kidding ourselves?
If you really want to know something, best ask an expert. There is not a lot Dr Rebecca Hawkins doesnt know about sustainability in this industry: she is a Consultancy Fellow at Oxford Brookes University where she is currently Director of the Centre for Environmental Studies in the Hospitality Industry (CESHI).
Dr Hawkins has contributed to a number of major projects pioneering the development of an on-line sustainability benchmarking tool for hotels (for the International Hotels Environment Initiative); a major review of tourism eco-labelling programmes (for the Worldwide Fund for Nature); and the Government consultation document on sustainable tourism (for the Department of Culture Media and Sport). She was also responsible for the successful Hospitable Climates industry/Government initiative which launched in 2000. It was acknowledged by the Carbon Trust as having beacon status for other energy saving programmes. Having done its job the initiative was wound down and the relevant information can now be found on the Carbon Trust website.
The term Corporate Social Responsibility has become something of a buzzword lately and has become synonymous with sustainability for many people. In the first decade of the 21st century we have seen CSR policies and programmes increasingly take centre stage for many companies so how does Dr Hawkins see this aspect paying out in the future? She reckons this is a trend that will continue to play a crucial role in foodservice. Demand for what can broadly be described as socially responsible offerings from foodservice businesses differs significantly between the public sector and business and industry markets. There is some evidence that responsible procurement is gaining a higher profile within central Government contracting (although it did not feature in the 2006 Audit Commission report Smarter Procurement in the Public Sector). A handful of local authorities have used CSR criteria in their procurement of catering services, however in the B&I market, with some notable exceptions, client demand for socially responsible offers is in what can best be described as in its infancy, says Dr Hawkins.
It does look encouragingly as though client companies are paying more than lip service to CSR. During research for Oxford Brookes Universitys Foodservice Forum, held in April 2009, Dr Hawkins came across foodservice operations that had responded to clients demands to:
Provide fair trade beverages as a core part of the offer (even though these products may be unpopular with individual consumers within some client premises);
Provide a range of fair trade products as a part of an ethical trading or fair trade status of the client business;
Provide biodegradable and/or recyclable tableware (or even ceramic tableware) as a condition of contract (usually as an element of the clients CSR programme, but also to meet local authority or waste disposal contractors requirements for public events);
Provide facilities to sort waste for recycling within the restaurant, canteen or kitchen (although there are not always the facilities to recycle these wastes once sorted);
Provide information about how they will contribute towards the CSR ambitions of the client company as a result of winning this foodservice contract; and
Provide kitchen facilities of a sufficient standard to gain the organic mark (one client only).
However, she is concerned that in the recession there is a risk that CSR could fall off the agenda or be seen as a cost efficiency. However, that fear aside, Dr Hawkins expects to see on-going pressure from public sector purchasers to consider CSR issues (especially energy, waste and water management, local procurement, carbon footprint and transport management) while there will be demand in both the public and business and industry sector for fair trade and ethical products and responsible supply chain management.
She forecasts that demand throughout the cost sector for comprehensive management policies rather than ad hoc token environmental gestures (e.g. an integrated waste management programme rather than recyclable cups alone) and demand from the B&I sector for the foodservice operation to contribute actively to the clients CSR/environmental management initiative.
An increased consumer focus on responsible sourcing, replicating the experience of the retail sector can also be expected. Operating to critical price thresholds, the demand for organic food will fall and other less rigorous ethical standards will become more important and better known amongst clients and consumers, says Dr Hawkins.
One such initiative (among others) is the Assured Food Standards Red Tractor scheme, which is 10 years old in June. This organisation has certainly done its bit to promote best practice from farm to fork. When you see the Red Tractor logo it means the produce meets high environmental and animal welfare standards. Red Tractor farmers are required to provide their livestock with fresh water and a healthy diet at all times, as well as adequate shelter and space. Theyre also required to take care of wildlife habitats and make sure they dont pollute streams and rivers.
The Red Tractor endorsement can only be used on food that has been produced, packed, stored and transported to Red Tractor standards. The standards in all farming sectors (such as chicken, dairy or vegetables) have been agreed by a panel of experts to ensure that the food is safe and that the animals are well treated.
Giant foodservice distributor Brakes is committed to Red Tractor produce and big-brand products whose ingredients come from Red Tractor farms include McCain oven chips, Shreddies and Shredded Wheat breakfast cereals, Silver Spoon sugar, Allinson flour and Country Life butter. In 2008 Youngs Bitter became the first beer to be awarded the symbol Red Tractor meat and milk are available to patients, staff and visitors at 32 hospitals around the country and Red Tractor ingredients figure on the restaurant menu at John Lewis stores and on carvery menus in the Orchid pub chain. When the Union Jack appears on the label that means the food has been produced on UK farms. There are currently over 78,000 Red Tractor farmers in the UK.
Coming right up to date, as we head into 2010, a brand new initiative getting its official launch at Hotelympia is the Sustainable Restaurant Association, a not-for-profit, nationwide, membership- based organisation committed to promoting sustainability across all parts of the UKs restaurant industry.
Set up by Giles Gibbons, the founder of responsible business consultancy Good Business, and funded initially with money from the National Lottery, the SRA aims to be the first port of call for any restaurant wanting advice on sustainability. Restaurants are under increasing pressure to address a wide range of sustainability issues from consumers, employees, the government and media. In order for restaurants to be successful longterm, they cant ignore those pressures, says Gibbons.
Members, who will pay as little as £100 to join, will receive tools and guidance to implement sustainable policies and there will be independent audits leading to sustainability accreditation. Prior to its launch, research commissioned from Populus by the SRA makes interesting reading.* Particularly interesting was the order in which customers ranked the issues that concern them most. Topping the list by some distance was locally sourced products, while concern about the restaurants carbon footprint languished in last place:
Locally sourced products (67%)
Organic products (45%)
Employee treatment (36%)
Sourcing of fish stocks (35%)
Use of Fairtrade products (28%)
Seasonality of products (35%)
Local community involvement (24%)
Animal welfare (22%)
Customer health and nutrition (20%)
Bottled water usage (20%)
General water usage (17%)
Food waste (14%)
Carbon footprint (12%)
Nevertheless, despite the faint impression the carbon footprint made in that survey, one of the great drivers in the quest for sustainable operation in the past 10 years has to be the Carbon Trust which was set up by the Government in 2001 as an independent company with a mission is to work with organisations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies.
So far it has done an exemplary job in raising awareness of sustainable issues with some imaginative marketing for going the greener route. That there are niggles about the lack of catering equipment, apart from refrigeration, on the Energy Technology List of appliances eligible for tax breaks, doesnt detract from the overall success of the venture in raising awareness in foodservice about the advantages of becoming sustainable.
Since its inception the Carbon Trust has helped to save around 23 million tonnes of CO2, offered tax beaks and insubstantial interest free loans to caterers refurbishing with more energy efficient equipment and provided insight to inform policy decisions, leading to the new CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (formerly known as the Carbon Reduction Commitment) for large organisations.
In 2008/09 alone the Carbon Trust:
Provided £22.3 million of interest-free Energy Efficiency Loans to businesses
Launched three major projects to accelerate the deployment of low carbon energy technologies including a £30 million project with the offshore wind industry aiming to cut the cost of offshore wind energy by 10 per cent
Delivered carbon savings cost effectively at £4-6 per tonne of carbon saved
In its excellent publication Food preparation and catering (sector guide CTV035) the Carbon Trust provides simple, effective advice to help businesses take action to reduce carbon emissions, saying the simplest way to do this is to use energy more efficiently. In one section the guide explains how the combi steam oven can reduce energy costs by around 50 per cent when compared with other equivalent cooking appliances.
The message must be getting through: It can be no coincidence that market leading combi-oven manufacturer Rational tells Footprint that comparing 1999 and 2009 sales by volume, 2009 sales are a staggering 108 per cent higher than those of 1999. And dont forget that in 2009 trading wasnt exactly easy, says a Rational spokesman.
Taken all in all we have come a long way in 10 years, but there is no place for complacency. There is still a long way to go: we must continue to improve sustainable production, forge sustainable partnerships and drastically reduce emissions.
The last word must go to Dr Hawkins who says: At the moment there is not even a single definition of sustainability/ CSR yet alone any definitive measures. This is something that we are working on at the moment. However, in terms of where we are now, my suspicion is that awareness has risen considerably as has action on very specific issues.
*Populus interviewed 1,099 adults aged 18+ online between 25 and 28 September 2009. The results have been weighted to be representative of all adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more details go to www.populus.co.uk