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Appetite for Change

15 September 2006

Living up to its name, the Environment Agency is improving its own environmental performance by minimising the impact of its catering operation on the environment. Purchasing of food ingredients locally is part of the strategy embraced by its catering partner, Eurest.

INSPECTING COWS IN THE FIELD and searching local markets for fresh produce are just two of the measures that leading business caterer, Eurest, has put into place since it started to supply catering services for the Environment Agency at its offices in the North of England and in East Anglia. They are part of a wider initiative that means food at Eurest-run Environment Agency sites is sourced locally, and preferably within 50 miles of the site, while the range of fare on offer includes organic and healthy eating options. Recycling and energy efficiency are also crucial features of the service.

The aim is to minimise the effect of the catering operations on the environment – part of a strategy that governs every aspect of office life at the Environment Agency, the leading public body responsible for protecting and improving the environment in England and Wales.

The Environment Agency's work includes tackling flooding and pollution incidents, reducing industry's impact on the environment, cleaning up rivers, coastal waters and contaminated land, conserving natural resources and improving wildlife habitats.

Nick Hodkinson, national property strategy manager at the Environment Agency, says such an attitude goes with the organisation’s territory: “At the Environment Agency, we are very keen to make sure that we live up to our own standards. It is important for us to know where our food has come from, that it has travelled as short a distance as possible and that we can offer healthy food in a healthy environment to the people who work here. When DEFRA launched the ‘Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative’ (PSFPI) in October 2003, we wanted to ensure that our new national catering contract met their requirements. These included minimising the environmental impact of production and delivery of food, providing healthier food and increasing the use of local suppliers where possible.”

Eurest, part of foodservice provider Compass Group, supplies catering services including staff restaurants, executive dining, deli bars and retail shops to nearly 4,000 of the country’s major employers. It won the Environment Agency contract, which covers 12 agency offices in the North East, North West and East Anglia, in June 2005. The contract agreement is built around a range of criteria that Eurest must meet in order to provide the most effective catering for the Environment Agency.

So far, so usual – but it is the type of criteria involved that make this partnership different. Not only are menus, staffing levels, opening hours, and health and safety important, but rated alongside them are the use of local suppliers, reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill, and the impact the food served has on the environment.

The foodservice provider is one of the business caterers working with the Environment Agency aiming to ensure at least a quarter of the produce they use has travelled no more than 50 miles from source to kitchen by using locally produced and grown fresh food, from bakery to dairy products.

Caron Naylor, operations director at Eurest, said: “Our target is to have 25 per cent of all our produce purchased locally. We measure this in food miles so ‘local’ is deemed to be from field to plate in 50 miles. “We have had local supplier events at the sites, visited local markets at the crack of dawn and checked on the cows in the field to ensure we achieve this target. I think that shows the lengths we are prepared to go to get it right.”

Not only must food be supplied locally, but it must also be healthy. Some 20 per cent of all meals served are classed as healthy choices, while organic meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables are also on the menu. The use of organic is important not only for health reasons, but also because it helps minimise the environmental impact of the dishes that are served up.

Fairtrade also has its part to play in this, and all hot drinks are Fairtrade – guaranteeing that suppliers in developing countries were paid a fair price for their produce – while Fairtrade chocolate and other confectionery products are also on the menu.

But Eurest staff are not only putting their energies into what goes onto the plate. What is left behind is also an important issue for them. All non-essential use of biodegradable food packaging is being eliminated while as much waste as possible is recycled. Once the cardboard, paper, cans and tins have been set aside for recycling, the remaining waste is weighed daily. The ultimate aim is to reduce that remaining waste, which is sent to landfill, by 40 per cent.

The work doesn’t stop there, with energy and water usage monitored closely. Here the emphasis is on reducing the amount that is used, cutting out all waste.

“We have carried out an audit to ensure that equipment is only turned on for the minimum amount of time required,” explained Naylor. “We will be aiming to have separate meters to be able to record and reduce even further. We are very pleased with what we have achieved but the work doesn’t stop here. We are constantly looking at ways of improving the service, making sure at the same time that we have a cutting our impact on the environment.”

According to Naylor, it seems that not only is the strategy having marked effects in the Eurest kitchens, but staff are taking the energy-saving and waste-reducing strategies home with them. “All the staff have completed an Environmental Handbook and have even taken some actions home with them.” She continued, “We are now progressing towards achieving our key performance indicators and are currently working on ideas for investment at some of the locations as well.”

The Environment Agency’s Nick Hodkinson adds: “Not only is it important that we set the highest standards for the way our catering services operate, but we hope that we act as a best practice for other organisations across the UK by showing what can be done, and how.

“It can seem difficult to make a difference, but I hope our partnership with Eurest and our other preferred suppliers has shown it is not as hard as it might seem.”

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