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How a children's hospital handles sustainability

At St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., protecting the environment and supporting the health and well-being of its employees and communities go hand in hand. FoodService Director spoke to Kevin Krueger, procurement and sustainability manager for the hospital, to learn about the strategies it employs to carry out that mission.

Q: What strategies have you put in place to help meet your diners’ expectations around sustainability?

A: One of the first projects I took on when I started here was removing products made of expanded polystyrene from our retail operation, which was a big project [because] that meant changing many of our plates, cups and other basics. … We have also significantly increased our local produce purchases starting this year and invested in a relaunch of our urban farm, which allowed us to harvest 5,500 pounds of on-site produce in 2017, with plans to keep increasing each year as we intensify our use of the space, improve our soil quality and create a more pollinator-friendly habitat.

Q: Does the hospital have a composting program?

A: Currently, our commercial composting project is still in pilot stage, so we are only collecting from parts of the retail operation. One of the challenges we ran into with starting to compost at scale was that when I started at St. Jude in 2015, there was no commercial composting operation in Memphis. We do some composting on-site at our 2-acre urban farm, but couldn’t keep up with the retail operation that way, so I spent a lot of time looking into other options.

Q: What has been the difference in cost, and do you see a return on that investment?

A: The cost difference to switch to compostable serviceware was significant. For some products, the new selections were over 25% more expensive, though interestingly, some other products were cost-neutral or even a small savings. The positive feedback we have gotten from employees and visitors has absolutely justified the overall investment.

Q: How important are your relationships with environmentally proactive suppliers as you work to carry out this mission of sustainability?

A: Supplier relationships are critical for us. …When we made the switch to compostable serviceware, we couldn’t find products in distribution locally that met all of our needs, so I went to suppliers directly to get more options. When I found what we were looking for with Eco-Products, we worked out a pricing agreement that I could take to one of our distributors, which also allowed us to support a small local company and help them create new industry connections and get experience with higher-volume sales without increasing our costs.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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