By Hamzah Abu-Ragheb, Sustainability Manager.
Investing time and energy to learn about various perspectives and opinions on sustainability is critical to staying on top of this important topic. From regenerative farming to single use plastics, over the past several months I’ve had the opportunity to attend a range of events to hear about the latest thinking. Here is what I learned:
Single Use Plastics (SUPs): One of the main themes discussed at the US Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit. Seeing how far this industry has come since my first summit attendance in 2015 was encouraging. In 2015 the summit had to explain to attendees what a circular economy means, this year we were hearing more about how companies are putting the concept of a circular economy into action. Single use plastic is by far the most top of mind issue I am reading about and working on with customers who are investigating ways to reduce their plastics usage and waste. Avendra is already working hard on plastic straw reduction with customers, but moving on multiple other SUP items as well.
Animal protein: A key category, especially since there are so many important sustainability-related angles to this topic (animal welfare, antibiotics, climate, etc.):
- Earlier this year I was able to get an industry perspective on many of the sustainability issues related to animal agriculture at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Summit. Solving this problem is going to take everyone along the value chain – from end consumers all the way back to the first part of the supply chain, in this case, animal agriculture. My main takeaway from this event is the need for sustainability professionals to make sure we understand the many perspectives in this space, from farmers and processors to purchasers (corporate and end consumer) as well as NGOs who are usually on the other side of industry.
- The Culinary Institute’s Menus of Change (MOC) Summit gave a good perspective on how to move the food industry to a more sustainable (and healthy) place, but particularly in regards to animal proteins. The organization’s approach of “less meat – better meat” seeks to solve for the traditional conflict between the meat and non-meat sides. Reducing the overall amount of animal proteins used, while raising the quality, animal welfare, and environmental standards of the amounts that are used seems like a logical approach. Consumers want choices and they appreciate their meats, but also want plant-based dishes, and everything in between.
Regenerative Agriculture/Carbon Farming: A topic discussed at some length at MOC Summit was regenerative agriculture/carbon farming. Carbon farming focuses primarily on carbon sequestration and increasing soil organic matter. Regenerative agriculture refers to a holistic vision for agriculture that covers carbon farming as well as other aspects such as workers’ rights, animal welfare, water cycle restoration and more. For non-sustainability professionals, the phrases “regenerative agriculture” and “carbon farming” might be newer to the industry vernacular. I anticipate that we’ll continue to hear more about these areas in the years to come.
Food Waste: This topic has been high on the priority list for the hospitality industry. As a member of AH&LA’s Sustainability Committee, Avendra attended the launch of Hotel Kitchen in November of last year. Hotel Kitchen is an essential tool for hotels working towards food waste reduction. This year The US Food Waste Summit was another fantastic event to attend. Learning at this particular conference was two-fold: the advances in solutions that help reduce food waste at the source through better planning, as well as ways to divert the waste from landfills (through first feeding the hungry, and then animals, and then composting).
Carbon Action: The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) Summit is an event that brings together the very important worlds of sustainability and procurement. This year the overwhelming takeaway for me was the importance of acting on the climate/carbon problem, which is the foremost problem of our time and basically encompasses all the topics above and most sustainability issues. As more and more companies take action on their direct carbon emissions and climate impact, they are starting to look more deeply into secondary emissions sources, such as their supply chains.
Attending these events and being part of these conversations is critical to keeping them top of mind within our businesses. Creating the change we need will require bold actions. Businesses are an essential player in this space and we need to take part in these conversations to stay engaged and informed. Avendra will continue to be involved in this space as we work to assist customers with their sustainability and responsible procurement goals.