FoodService Director highlights five companies and institutions where saving the environment has become a priority.
As part of a company-wide effort to reduce its clients’ environmental impact, New York City-based Restaurant Associates (RA), a division of Compass Group, recently implemented its Green Dining Practices. These practices, developed in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, are science-based recommendations for an environmentally friendly foodservice operation including tips for sustainable food purchasing and operational changes. The foodservice operation at Random House in New York City served as one of RA’s test sites—the other was Hearst Tower also in New York City—for the implementation of the Green Dining Best Practices. Early results from the two sites were annuallized and estimate that the Green Dining Best Practices will save more than $85,000 each year, cut 275 tons of carbon pollution and reduce landfill waste by 60 tons annually for just those two sites. Robert Serafin, director for RA at Random House, says the process began because the building wanted to achieve LEED standards.
“We wanted to convert the old construction to LEED standards up to a bronze certification. To do that, we went through several changes in the cafeteria to reduce our environmental footprint.”
Serafin says it was important for RA not to sacrifice quality of ingredients, so where his staff couldn’t save money in food they tried saving money in energy usage.
“It’s a given that when you buy organic products, they do cost more than your average product,” Serafin says. “So we couldn’t save the money in the food aspect of the operation, but when we looked at the operation as a whole, there were other areas we could save by [implementing the Green Dining Best Practices].
One tool was Compass Group’s Trim Trax program, which allows chefs to monitor how much food the kitchen staff wastes.
“With Trim Trax, we can see if they’re cutting too much away from the vegetables,” Serafin says. “Everybody has a bucket and we go through it and the chefs will evaluate if they are really using the product to the fullest. For that waste, we use an anaerobic digester, which mixes the food waste they save with some wood chips that have an enzyme in them, and the enzyme breaks the material down into a mush and over about a day or day and half, all the food turns to water and goes down the drain pipe like waste water. The enzymes also help out at the waste treatment centers by helping break waste down.”
By using the digester, the Random House cafeteria saves about one ton of garbage per week from going to a landfill. Serafin says the digester was a big factor in Random House being a test site for the Green Dining Best Practices. Another best practice that made a big impact was sourcing local and organic produce and meats.
“We started a program where all beef, except hamburger, that we serve in the café is grass fed,” Serafin says. “The difference between the two is cows that are fed a soy and corn diet produce more methane gas than grass-fed cows. We monitor everything to make sure the costs don’t get out of hand by making portions just a little bit smaller. The customers loved it. Basically we were just trying to educate everyone here.”
Serafin says he feels a big reason why they were so successful with implementing these changes was because 80% of Random House’s staff is female, many of whom are young women who tend to be more earth-conscious. He says they also have about a 40% vegetarian population, which he believes also worked to the department’s benefit because they were able to cut down on the amount of protein they were buying. Serafin adds that there were also little easy fixes that made an impact on the operation’s footprint.
“To reduce energy, we did little things that you don’t even think about in a restaurant,” Serafin says. “The first guys in the door, what do they do? They turn on all the equipment. And then at the end of the day, the last person out is the one who turns off all the equipment. We only turn on our equipment on an as-needed basis. Because our day is pretty much scheduled out we can actually map out what times the equipment need to be used. So on each piece, we have little laminated cards that have the hours of operation for that piece of equipment.”
Training in Sustainable
When 26 healthcare foodservice professionals from five Philadelphia-area hospitals attended the Sustainable Food Cook Training event on March 18 at the headquarters of broadline distributor Novick Brothers Corp., in Philadelphia, they came away with more than just new recipes.
Among the take-aways were more motivated and knowledgeable cooks, a sense of camaraderie among colleagues and a greater overall appreciation for sustainable, locally sourced produce.
The five hospitals represented—Abington Memorial Hospital, Christiana Care Health System, Cooper University Hospital, Holy Redeemer Medical Center and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital—all are signatories of Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge. Members of their staffs received training from three chefs experienced in healthcare foodservice who demonstrated eight recipes that use healthy, sustainable ingredients and can be easily replicated in the healthcare setting.
The event was coordinated and produced by the Women’s Health & Environmental Network (WHEN), whose Healthy Food in Health Care program calls upon hospitals to commit to buying, preparing and serving healthy, sustainable foods that support a system that protects patients, farmers and the environment.
Meat versus. produce: Among the information presented to attendees was the fact that, according to a 2008 report from Carnegie Mellon University, going without meat and dairy one day a week is “more environmentally beneficial than eating locally every single day.” Also, animal-based agriculture “emits more greenhouse gases (in carbon dioxide equivalents) than all means of transportation combined.”
Fran Cassidy, director of food and nutrition for Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., who was among the participants, said she and her staff have been “leaning toward healthier foods for a little over a year. We were actually presenting a lot of our healthy recipes [at the training day]. Of course, you always pick up things from other chefs. We used one of the recipes for Earth Day.”
Cookbooks for all: “We actually all walked away with a recipe book,” says Jennifer Ross, director of nutrition services for 666-bed Abington Memorial Hospital in Abington, Pa. “We all made the commitment to feature, starting on Earth Day, either vegetarian or reduced-meat options. What I came away with were options that included edamame, something we had never used here. We’ve also started working with soba noodles.”
On Earth Day, Abington Memorial was featuring a hand carved roast beef sandwich with sautéed spinach at its exhibition cooking station. As an alternative, diners also found “something we had never done before,” Ross recalls. “We made the same sandwich using portobello mushrooms instead.”
“The food we are receiving from our vendors is coming from very, very far away,” notes Maureen Simpson-White, director of food and nutrition services for Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Del., “and we wanted to make sure that we get more environmentally sustainable food from farms that are nearby—that is, in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. We also want to use less meat and less fats to cook our food and more vegetable protein.” Christiana operates a pair of hospitals in the greater Wilmington, Del.-area: 907-bed Christiana Hospital in Newark and 291-bed Wilmington Hospital.
Simpson-White confesses that she and her colleagues were “surprised at the number of vegetables we could use to produce vegetarian meatloaf and things like that. We discussed a lot of other vegetable proteins that could be replacements. For example, we replaced hamburger with soy.”
People: “What we really brought back that was tangible were recipes,” says Shelley Chamberlain, assistant director for dining services at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in downtown Philadelphia. “The whole process of sustainability needed to be taken to the next step. Thomas Jefferson cooks are now working more with herbs and better appreciating local and fresh; [and understanding] that these products are more delicate.”
The importance of cooks being part of the training was not lost on Abington’s Ross.
“I thought it was really important that everybody brought folks from their production staffs,” she says. “It is one thing for me to come back and talk to folks about an initiative, with sustainable food being one of them. But I think it’s really another thing for our cook, Derrick Mesquita, to come with us and interact with other chefs. I think it lit a fire under him in a way that I wasn’t able to do just by saying, ‘This is what we’re doing now.’”
University of Indianapolis
Green Team to the Rescue
At 4,700-student University of Indianapolis, Dan Phillips, executive chef for PFS at the university, admits his department has been slow to catch on to environmental initiatives. However, that changed last spring when the university decided to develop a Green Team.
“In February, the Green Team officially took action and now we’re working on recycling, reducing and reusing all over campus,” Phillips says. “In foodservice, we’ve gone trayless, which saved thousands in gallons of water a day. We’ve also given students flyers concerning conserving water such as reminders to turn off the water when you brush your teeth and to take shorter showers. The other big thing we’ve done is dealt with the amount of bottled water on campus.”
To confront this challenge, Phillips says the department decided to install a purified-water dispensing system during a recent renovation.
“That made it accessible for students to refill their own water bottles and things of that nature,” Phillips says. “It’s a water filtration system that ensures the water is chilled and as pure as it can be. We worked hard to educate the campus that it takes about a gallon of water to produce the bottle that holds the water. Through the conservation of that process, the production and transportation, we’ve already saved what was wasted.”
Phillips says the department has encouraged offices around campus that would previously order bottled water to install similar water systems in their own offices, be it five-gallon dispensers, filters for tap water or water purifiers in the fridge. Phillips says the campus has been very receptive to the change in water policy.
“Even though [the switch] was a loss of sales to us, it was worth it,” Phillips says. “Student Activities provided each student living in a dorm with their own mug, and we honor those at any time for refills. Now, about one third of students come in with their mugs to refill. This allows us to order tremendously less bottled water. We were probably ordering about 300 cases a week. Now we’re down to only 25 cases a week.”
Phillips says they’ve also made changes in catering. Instead of putting out soda cans and bottled water they made service areas for drinks with tap water, which has also made a big impact. The other huge change the Green Team made is the switch to trayless.
“We sat in a seminar about trayless service and when we came back we had just gone through a major renovation and we thought it was the perfect time to open without trays. The students were all in favor of it and couldn’t believe the difference it made.”
Other environmental endeavors the Green Team has implemented include a campus pledge to change out 10,000 light bulbs and changes in recycling. This fall, the department is going to benchmark its water and food waste.
“There aren’t really any patterns to follow with this [environmental] stuff,” Phillips says. You have to do it on your own and see what works for your campus. My best advice is to listen to your students. We realize we have a long way to go. We started later than everybody else, but you know how these things work, they come from the coasts into the Midwest.”
Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community
Small Changes, Big Results
At the 300-resident Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community in York, Pa., the foodservice department has taken small steps to make the facility more sustainable.
Kristan Neideigh, foodservice director with Metz & Associates, says one of the major sustainable practices the facility has implemented is reducing the amount of paper products used in the nursing and assisted living areas. “We decentralized our dining room and in doing so we were able to eliminate a lot of our paper products,” Neideigh says. “We don’t use trays anymore. We set residents up using real china. We use a lot of linens in our dining room.”
Neideigh says the change from trays and paper products to china and silverware was in part because of the community’s partnership with Action Pact, an organization that helps long-term care facilities become more resident-driven. “Action Pact is working on a culture change where the residents have a home-like environment. When you eat at home, you are not putting a paper placemat down or being served on a tray, so we eliminated those things. It helps out with our paper costs, too.”
Paper products are also being reduced in the café. Neideigh says the café’s cups are corn-based products, and the other disposables, such as the plates, napkins and trash bags, are all biodegradable. A reusable mug program has also been implemented. “We’re looking at getting china and silverware in the café and dwindling down on the paper products. Even though they are green, we want paper to be just for those who need to take things out,” Neideigh says.
Reducing paper is not the only sustainability measure that the foodservice department has implemented. Neideigh says the department takes advantage of its location in Pennsylvania’s farm belt by buying locally grown produce.
“Local for us is from York County,” she says. “Most of the residents were farmers and or grew up on farms and they want us to continue to support that. We get corn, green beans and peaches in August. We do activities with the residents with these local items. Last month, we scheduled a green bean snipping. They participated in stringing and snipping the beans, and then we cooked them for lunch.”
The foodservice department is also cutting down on food waste in its breakfast program for the assisted living residents. The breakfast hours have been expanded and residents are now getting food to order. “We do made-to-order breakfast where they have a choice of eggs, toast and cereal,” Neideigh says. “We take their orders and get them their beverages. We give them a cold item like cereal or a pastry and then we see if they want to have a hot breakfast made for them. We do items like omelets or French toast. We’ve been able to expand breakfast to a two-hour time frame. That way whenever the residents wake up they can come dine instead of us saying that breakfast is at exactly 7 o’clock and this is what you are getting. It has helped us with food waste too because normally we are preparing food for 40 residents. You could do 40 batches of scrambled eggs and you may not use all of them.
“There is always stuff we can do moving forward,” Neideigh says about the community’s next steps. “We are going to do more made-to-order items downstairs. We are talking about getting farmers in to do a market stand set up in the community. The residents are the driving force behind our sustainability measures. They have been requesting things like this.”
Bellingham School District
Reducing the Waste Stream
Three years ago in the 10,500-student Bellingham (Wash.) School District, the foodservice department began a composting program. The program started as a pilot in three of the district’s elementary schools to see if composting would be a viable option. Results showed the program was not only an environmentally friendly initiative but also financially sound.
Mark Dalton, manager of foodservice, says the program started because a local waste management company began a composting service and asked if the department would be interested in starting a composting program. Dalton says the foodservice director at the time, Brett Greenwood, started a pilot after receiving the go-ahead from the district’s administrators.
“It is really important to get leaders in the schools where you are going to run the pilot that are encouraging and want to bring this in and make it a big presentation,” Dalton says. “We picked elementary initially because it is a controlled environment at lunch. Elementary kids tend to learn from direct instruction fairly quickly.”
Dalton says the pilot showed that 80% of the district’s waste stream could be composted. In addition, Dalton found that the district could save money by composting. The cost of hauling garbage, including a plastic garbage bag, is $15 per cubic yard of garbage. The cost to compost, including a biodegradable bag, is $12 per cubic yard of garbage. Since starting the composting program in 2006, the department has saved $53,000. Dalton says the savings happened because there is less waste to pick up, so trash containers don’t need to be emptied as frequently.
The biggest lesson Dalton says he learned from the process was to switch to paper products before starting the composting program. “We had some Styrofoam elements, but we eliminated those. We went to paper products or we went to a compartmentalized food tray that allowed us to serve our food right onto the tray. In a lot of our elementary schools we did not do that. We just had a flat tray that we put boats and Styrofoam bowls on. We brought in trays and started serving food right onto the trays, so we eliminated the product. We went to all paper so it made it easy for us to compost things.”
Dalton was concerned about milk cartons, which he thought would not be compostable. “We found out that we were able to compost our milk cartons, so that was a huge thing. It allowed us to set up the students’ lunch trays with pretty much everything being compostable. Usually students just grab one thing, like a plastic fork or spoon, and toss that in the garbage. The rest of it goes to composting.
“One of the problems we had when we started this was that Styrofoam was cheaper than paper,” Dalton says. “The waste-hauling side of the budget is in maintenance. So with the composting, the maintenance department was going to save money, but foodservice would lose money because we had to pay more for the paper products. So we made a cross-department agreement where maintenance transfers the savings from the Dumpsters back to us to offset the cost of the paper. During the past three years, the cost of paper products is going down.”
After the positive results from the pilot, the program was extended into the middle and high schools. Now, all of the district’s 21 schools have a composting program.