Sustainability step change

Sustainability step change
09/02/2017 - 11:58
Companies and organisations have a responsibility to help build a sustainable future for us all, it’s one of the most important things we can do says Shirley Duncalf of Bidvest Foodservice.

Sustainability is one of the major challenges facing the foodservice industry today. How can companies become more sustainable while also controlling costs? Why is it important and what difference can it actually make to profit margins?

In my work as head of sustainability I’ve been looking at the issue for a number of years and we regularly publish a sustainability and CSR report. I truly believe that it’s one of the most important things an organisation can do because a robust sustainability strategy not only saves money in the long-term but it’s good for the planet too.

Every successful strategy has to start somewhere. Firstly, key areas that contribute heavily to waste production or carbon emissions need to be identified.

From here you can work out where you want to be – for example is it possible to eliminate these areas altogether or is a smaller reduction target more achievable? Then you can make a plan.

As an example, a few years ago we looked at our lighting policies across our 22 depots. Much of our fresh range is sent out for delivery overnight, which requires artificial light, as do our chillers and freezers.

As a result of identifying this area as one that could benefit significantly from sustainability improvements, we have been investing in cost-efficient and energy-saving LED technology across our sites. Our chillers and freezers now have LEDs and we’ve successfully replaced all exterior lighting.

The work continues and on one site alone, we expect to save around 28 carbon tonnes by replacing internal office lighting this year.

We also have almost 1,000 fleet vehicles delivering high-quality food to our customers across the country every week. We identified this as another area where environmental and cost savings could be made by embracing new technology.

Now, more than 30% of our total fleet meets the Euro VI standard, resulting in reduced emissions and increased fuel efficiency.

Savings, both environmental and cost-wise won’t happen overnight and it’s important not to expect them to. Realistic timescales need to be set depending on the size of the job and the budgets involved.

For example, you may decide to replace all lights with more efficient LED versions, but you may also have multiple sites. This could take a year or more, setting achievable goals means that you’re far more likely to meet them.

Waste is one of the largest challenges faced by the catering industry. Whether it’s leftovers from a meal, food that’s past its sell-by date or contamination of recycling bins with non-recyclable matter, it all adds up. The catering industry produces 0.4 million tonnes of avoidable food waste per year.

Again, simple measures can be taken to help solve this problem. Reducing portion sizes and helping customers and staff to understand that they don’t have to pile their plates is a great start.

This will also help with forecasting volumes in the longer-term, and in turn reduce waste. Looking at menus and ensuring that food choices are sustainable, as well as that surplus ingredients are repurposed as much as possible and healthy eating is encouraged, can all help to reduce waste in the longer-term.

There’s no substitute for talking to customers either, find out what they want and explain what you’re trying to do in terms of reducing waste.

By providing more of what they want and less of what they don’t, waste levels should immediately be impacted.

Making progress on any sustainability strategy won’t happen very fast (or at all) unless you have buy-in across the organisation. This starts from the very top and extends downwards.

Support for what you’re trying to achieve from senior management is absolutely crucial, without it, any policy will fail. Making a company more sustainable isn’t a short-term project, it’s a cultural step-change.

It does require some upfront investment and will impact the very core of operations. Plans need to be well-thought out, timescales and costs need to be realistic and common goals should be identified.

At Bidvest Foodservice, we’ve undergone a complete change in the way that we operate. We have transformed our business and are putting what we call ‘Service Excellence’ at its core.

This doesn’t just mean that we provide excellent customer service, but that we go the extra mile and ensure that the things that are important to us, such as sustainability, run throughout the organisation (as just one example, we have introduced sustainability coordinators at every site).

Our commitment to Service Excellence is a long-term one, our business is shaped around this principle and it will influence everything we do for years to come.

As with any major strategy, it will take commitment and time to implement properly. By identifying key areas where waste can be reduced and cost-savings made as a first step, you can build a wider strategy and make significant changes to the way your organisation is run.

Once in place, it is important that plans are regularly monitored, constantly at first and then on an ongoing basis once established. There are industry resources available online, such as the Footprint Sustainability Index that can be used to monitor progress.

Realistic goals have to be set and checked to see if they have been achieved. If not, why not? Having said that, it’s equally important to celebrate success and keep people engaged with the initiative. 

In order to make a real difference, a sustainability policy has to be at the heart of an organisation with support from the top down. Only then will we be able to improve the foodservice industry’s sustainability credentials and pass on our resources to the next generation.

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