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A Smart Approach

19 February 2010

SPONSORED ARTICLE: Understanding a client's objectives and access to technical knowledge give an outsource caterer a strong competitive advantage in the new low carbon economy in which energy savings, waste management and carbon footprint are on the menu.

EVERYONE RECOGNISES THE IMPACT businesses have on the natural environment. We understand the need for carbon and energy management in every organisation, and the role it will play in the future of good business.
Much of this need is driven by good business sense: the less energy you use, the less it costs you. But increasing legislation, either current or coming, is also putting pressure on businesses to reduce their environmental impact. And for FM providers, that means helping their clients to do just that. Robin Hay, MD of MITIE’s food service business, ingredients, looks at the challenges of managing an outsourced catering contract sustainably.
Caterers are being challenged to make greener and more ethical choices about the ingredients they buy and the way they choose their suppliers. Continuous efforts to reduce the food miles that determine your working lunch footprint by supporting local food and drink producers and creating menus that help improve people’s performance are all important parts of a corporate responsibility strategy. But in contract catering it’s not all about the food when it comes to sustainability. It’s also about working ever more closely with clients to meet our joint objectives of reducing waste, and carbon and energy usage.
Because of increasing disposal charges and landfill taxation, and new Landfill Regulations stopping producers from sending any waste that has not been pre-treated to landfill, waste remains a complex issue in contract catering. Depending on contractual arrangements, a catering provider is usually responsible for managing and paying for disposal of cooking oils, whilst other waste generated by operating a staff restaurant is handled by the client.
It is imperative therefore that contractor and client work in close partnership to drive cost savings through waste reduction and improve the environmental performance of both parties. And there are a lot of waste streams to think about including pre-consumer waste (kitchen waste), post-consumer waste (waste generated in restaurants) and packaging.
A strategic approach to tackling this area requires a close look at everything from source reduction to recycling and waste minimisation solutions, catering staff working habits and consumer behaviour.
Inevitably, a range of tricky questions will arise… Is it commercially viable to dispose of food waste or invest in a composting system? Does it make sense to offer biodegradable plastic forks and knives or stay with traditional cutlery? Is it better to install a water purification system or keep using plastic or glass bottles?
The answers will be different depending on the financial model, contract period, client priorities and contractor capabilities. As always with sustainability, some competing objectives will not be easily reconciled. But the most important is to get as many people involved as possible. It’s all about creating a sustainable culture, not only within the kitchen and restaurants but throughout the organisation. Client and contractor have to work hard together at creating the right environment for sustainability. Innovation is obviously a big part of creating sustainable operations – it’s only by looking at thingsdifferently that change will happen.
MITIE has been working in close partnership with Communities and Local Government and the Government Office for London to achieve their ambitious target of increasing recycling figures to 75 percent by 2020. A physical waste audit showed that general waste contained a high proportion of organic waste which led to the introduction of a composting scheme. MITIE formed a partnership with the East London Community Recycling Partnership to ensure all biodegradable food waste from catering areas and office tea making pantries across the three government sites is composted. As a result, over 40 tonnes of compost have already been generated and used in green spaces around Hackney in East London. The number and volume of general waste collections has also been reduced, helping the government departments offset their carbon emissions.
Energy saving
A major cultural change in working habits must be integrated into the training and daily tasks of all catering teams for significant savings to happen. The best way to improve the energy performance of any catering operation is to use less – less energy, less gas, less water. A smart approach to service delivery can make a huge difference to your budget and help achieve sustainability targets.
Good housekeeping can reduce energy consumption by over 15 percent. On one of our client sites, we found the servery was being turned on at 8.00am when lunch service didn’t start until 12.00pm. We put together a simple communications campaign to get the team to turn it on an hour before service and not to turn the halogen lamps on until they actually put food out as the halogen lamps provide heat instantly. By encouraging behavioural change, we addressed other wasteful habits including turning the oven temperature to 200°C and then turning it down to the required 150°C instead of simply setting thermostat on 150°C.
Robust equipment maintenance is another important area that cannot be overlooked when driving energy efficiencies in a staff restaurant kitchen. Regular deep cleaning and maintenance helps keep equipment running longer and more efficiently. Having your fridge, freezer or chilled display cabinet condenser covered with a greasy film, which collects dust, significantly reduces the efficiency of the refrigeration process; whilst a fridge with a refrigerant leak uses up to 100 percent more energy. We also work with our clients to enhance usage of eCubes, an increasingly popular energy saving devise for commercial refrigeration units. Recent research on one of our sites shows that by using an eCube, energy savings range from 15 percent on a weekday up to 22 percent over a weekend.
Although all the above practices are essential in reducing carbon and energy usage, best results are achieved when a caterer has access to inhouse expertise. The new breed of contractor is just as good at making a cup of coffee as it is at helping its clients reduce energy spend and carbon emissions. From energy audits, lighting improvements, smart heating and ventilation systems and advice on energy efficient replacements for kitchen equipment, applying technical knowledge traditionally used in hard FM services to catering operations can yield important energy savings.
Efforts to increase energy efficiency through our FM contract at the Communities and Local Government main site have resulted in a 27 percent reduction in energy usage in the year to 2008 – the equivalent of 1,268 tonnes of CO2 and over £160,000. Sustainability has been integrated into our food service delivery throughout the contract.
Even better is linking together the management of all environmental impacts in an offering such as MITIE’s CarbonCare. CarbonCare offers a holistic solution from collecting and analysing energy data, installing smart meters, and investing in renewable energy – to challenges with a more human dimension like cultural change. Having experience in managing clients’ assets in an energy efficient way and detailed knowledge of the whole range of funding available for more sustainable alternatives, CarbonCare adds significant value for our clients.
And finally…
Having a proactive approach, excellent understanding of clients’ objectives and access to technical knowledge give a caterer a strong competitive advantage in the new low carbon economy. However, increasing challenges of reducing carbon and energy usage require fresh thinking from clients and contractors alike. The financial and environmental benefits of a sustainable catering contract will only become real in a true partnership.

MITIE’s food service business, ingredients, is one of the UK’s leading catering providers with services ranging from staff restaurants and café bars to fine dining and event catering. Ingredients manages contracts for over 100 clients including Communities and Local Government, the Brewery, Next and Standard Life. ● For more information please contact us on

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