Talking about going green is one thing, but as with any business endeavor, the key to quantifiable success comes about through careful goal setting, assessing, planning and measuring results. Sustainability consultants use calculated, thought-out plans to help companies set goals and follow through on them. Here's how.
"I can't stress enough about knowing where you start," says Greg Christian, principal of Beyond Green: Sustainable Food Partners. When working with a school, institution or other company looking to adopt more sustainable practices, Christian says the first step is setting specific goals for the first year, second year and beyond.
Using his 1,000-point matrix, which aggregates strategies and standards, Christian starts with a 5-year goal and then a longer-term, 10-year goal covering both food and nonfood categories. This includes establishing a certain percentage for buying local food and supporting the local economy, as well as instituting plans for education, engagement and even green cleaning and sanitation. From sourcing to distribution, processing and prep, all of these aspects of foodservice represent new opportunities to cut energy, waste and, ultimately, costs.
Breaking down the process into smaller categories can help prevent operators from being overwhelmed. "We start with the food — determining how much local or even organic product the company wants to buy," says Christian. "Then we move into nonfood items, such as switching from disposables to real plates." Bulk service and avoiding individually wrapped portioning also helps reduce pre- and post-consumer waste. And then there's the question of composting and aiming to become a zero-waste facility, if that's a goal.
John Turenne, FCSI, president of Sustainable Food Systems, LLC, takes a similar approach as Christian, starting with main categories and then drilling down to the details.
Turenne's plan involves five main factors or spokes that turn the wheels on a green plan of action:
1) studying the food itself, from the menus to ingredients sourced, to search for opportunities in local, seasonal and/or organic food sourcing;
2) studying the facilities, including equipment, space, service areas and other infrastructure to examine how well these areas perform in terms of utility, water and waste efficiency;
3) talking to everyone involved in an operation, including principals and administrators at schools, and customers buying the food at healthcare facilities;
4) establishing plans for ongoing marketing, communication and training; and
5) working with financial institutions to set, follow and manage budgets and capital investments.
"Assessment is a strong first step toward determining how far along you are in reaching your goals," Christian says. To get this process started, Christian will look at receipts and bills, meet the customers and cooks, and examine kitchen operations to conduct assessments and determine other areas for possible growth.
Turenne has developed a checklist of sorts with a scoring system for each of his main categories and subsequent subcategories. For example, in the "food and products" category, the operation might be graded on seasonality of menus, scratch cooking and sourcing of local and sustainably produced food.
"Once we've assessed and identified what's currently in place, we create an action plan to outline what the foodservice operation still needs to do," Turenne says. That plan includes details of the task at hand, the measurables, action steps and time frame. Each of those tasks also has a point person in charge of executing it as well as a resource the point person can use for help.
When it comes to working with schools, Christian writes sustainability goals into the contract with the foodservice management company in charge of day-to-day operations. He'll monitor their progress on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis as a third-party auditor.
If the management company doesn't meet these goals, "now they're in breach of contract, but we stay out of the repercussions," he says. "At the end of the day everyone wants to know that this plan is headed in the right direction — that's what people really care about."
After scoring, Turenne encourages the company at hand to simply "do one thing more" in each category so as not to overwhelm. Or, he'll encourage dividing up the duties among more people, or establishing more deadlines.
Then, every two to three months, he'll rescore. "Measuring is so important to achieving goals," Turenne says.
While it might be easy to establish a plan for sustainability, the real challenge comes with setting it in motion and making sure it continues to move forward. Clear, concise planning all the way through is a must.