New group aims to make noncom the engine driving sustainability

Composed of operators and suppliers, the Sustainability Leadership Team intends to remove the roadblocks to best practices at every step of the supply chain.
The Sustainability Leadership Team met in New York earlier this month to discuss ways to implement sustainability best practices in onsite foodservice.| Photo: Shutterstock

The group that met recently at a business-and-industry facility in New York City was a diverse one, with representation from at least three noncommercial foodservice segments and several times as many suppliers. But they were united in their mission: Engineering sustainability into the DNA of the onsite market.

“We recognize that we have a big field to plow,” remarked Jim Green, the consultant who emceed the second meeting of the Sustainability Leadership Team. He was joined by two dozen executives of organizations with a commitment to fostering sustainability, be it as a food broker, a packaging provider, the manufacturer of a plant-based replacement for mozzarella or an executive of the New York City school system.

Included were operators from contract-managed and self-operated noncommercial foodservice facilities.  They were drawn from the K-12, college-and-university, B&I and catering sectors. 

Even regulators were represented, with a seat given for the discussion to the person who steers food New York City food policy for Mayor Eric Adams, Neeti Jain.

The group was unusual in its holistic approach, with a focus on promoting sustainability throughout the noncommercial supply chain, from field to fork. “It’s not just what a manufacturer does, it’s how they do what they do,” said Green.

That can mean pushing beyond what comes out of a company’s PR department, to what’s actually helping to protect precious natural resources and promote good environmental stewardship. Green mentioned the example of a huge industry supplier that quietly altered its biscuit-production system to use less water.  It was an important step, he said, but the company didn’t crow about it.

The meeting in New York was largely devoted to planning the pursuit of the Team’s mission. Green listed five areas of focus: water, waste, people, energy and emissions.

Participants—suppliers and operators—shared what their organizations are doing on those fronts to function more sustainability, typically concentrating on a single standout effort or two.

Each one then aired the obstacles they face in trying to do more. For instance, several cited the difficulties of selling sustainability to the corporate leaders above them, so sufficient time, effort and attention will be provided.

“What we need is a framework,” said Green.

Part of the effort was identifying the parties that have to be won over to the cause—not only higher-ups, but other affected parties, like consumers, host communities and investors.

The brainstorming session was a follow-up to the inaugural Sustainability Leadership Team meeting held in March in Charlotte, N.C.  

The next steps will be focusing on messaging and demonstrating the importance of fostering sustainability. Green mentioned that an information portal was in the works to highlight effective sustainability practices, and indicated that future meetings will likely be held in additional locations.

There was agreement that sustainability is an issue where the noncommercial segment can take the lead in setting best practices for the whole foodservice business, restaurants included. For one thing, awareness of the benefits appear to be greater in the onsite field.

“For a myriad of reasons, it’s us, the ones on the noncommercial side, who’re going to drive it,” said Green.

The group's planned efforts to promote sustainability within the noncommercial community include presentations at FoodService Director's Menu Directions conference, which is scheduled for June 15-17 at the Loews Anatole in Atlanta, Ga. 



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