2009 Environmental Survey: Paler shade of green

FoodService Director's first Environmental Study find out how operators are tackling sustainability.

We all know that non-commercial foodservice operators are concerned about the environment. But exactly how much are operators doing to make their facilities environmentally friendly, and in which areas are they concentrating their efforts? FSD attempts to answer these questions with its first reader survey on the topic.

The popular adage about the weather is, everyone complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. That is hardly true about environmental issues, but according to the results of our first environmental survey, virtually everyone knows they have to do something, but most aren’t doing enough.

We took a cross-section of operators in every segment of the non-commercial marketplace and asked them what they do to make their operations more environmentally friendly. Of the operators surveyed, 94% participate in some form of environmental program, but the types of actions vary widely.

The most common environmental practice, by far, is recycling, with 76% of operators managing a recycling program. Taking steps to reduce waste is the second most common practice, with 55% of operators doing this. Forty-two percent said they collect cooking oil for conversion to biofuel, and 34% buy local, sustainable and/or organic foods. Finally, 25% said they have stopped using disposables in their operations, 23% have installed water-flow restrictors and 13% compost organic waste.

Who has the time?: Among those operators who said they have not undertaken any environmental programs, the most commonly cited reasons were cost, the time and labor involved, lack of space to store items for recycling and a lack of companies to aid in efforts such as recycling and composting.

When it comes to recycling, paper and plastic dominate the non-waste stream, with 87% of operators saying they recycle paper and 71% recycling plastic. Metal is recycled by 61% of operators, glass by 53% and polystyrene by 14%.

Although environmentally friendly disposables such as compostable serviceware have become more widely available in recent years, the majority of operators surveyed—60%—still don’t offer them in their cafeterias and dining rooms. Of those who don’t, the main reason given is cost, with 72% of respondents citing this. Twenty-five percent said there are no convenient places to take such items for recycling or composting and 17% said customers aren’t asking them to make such items available. Finally, 8% said such products aren’t available in their areas, and 3% said they don’t feel it’s necessary and/or customers don’t participate in such programs.

Despite the higher cost of environmentally friendly disposables, those who do use them seldom pass on the cost to customers. Only 12% of operators who make such items available said they charge a premium to customers who use them.

Marketing environmental efforts is definitely not a priority for many operators, as 46% of respondents said they do not promote their “green” practices. Of those who do, posters, hand-outs and other printed materials are used by 48% of operators. Thirty-one percent said they post information on their Web sites, and 15% said they have used special events such as contests and giveaways to call attention to their environmental efforts.

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