With over 30 years of experience in sustainable food service, Porter Bush offers his top tips for schools and food service operators on adopting sustainable practices. Bush is the former Operations Manager for the CulinArt Group, a food service provider emphasizing fresh meals made from raw ingredients. He is also the Board Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic branch of Common Market, a non-profit regional food distributor connecting communities with fresh produce from sustainable farms and striving to improve food security, farm viability, and community and ecological health. His recent work in schools successfully raised student awareness about local, sustainable agricultural practices and promoted healthy and innovative culinary choices.
Here are Bush’s top tips to get you started in implementing sustainable practices:
1. Communicate the Importance of Sustainability
“Let everyone on your team know that you are adopting sustainable practices and why,” suggests Bush, “Why are we buying local, organic? If you talk about it, you are more likely to follow through and observe the change. If you don’t tell people why you’re adopting these practices, you don’t get the mileage out of it.” Internal communication is crucial in adopting sustainable practices. The first step is to communicate your sustainability mission. Communicating your mission statement not only verbally, but also visually with signage, can ensure that it remains present, not forgotten. Next, it is critical to communicate the “why,” establishing a sense of importance and urgency, which allows your employees to become invested in the sustainability program and urges them to follow through. For schools, Bush advices engaging not only faculty and staff in this discussion, but students as well, as they are critical figures in shaping the future of sustainability.
2. Increase Your Sustainability Knowledge and Train Your Staff
“Read up on the subject and look for workshops that you can attend to become more knowledgeable,” advices Bush. Various sustainability resources and workshops are available across the country, such as these opportunities during the summer of 2019 compiled here. After learning more about sustainability, pass on your newly-gained knowledge to your staff, ensuring that they can likewise further the cause.
3. Use an External Third-Party Standard to Set a Course
In designing your sustainability program, use an external third-party standard like the Green Restaurant Association, an international nonprofit organization working with restaurants, manufacturers, and distributors to fulfill its mission of greening the restaurant industry. Using such standards can provide valuable guidance and help in setting priorities. Following the given standard, for instance, can help in switching to sustainable supply lines of paper products, cleaners, and other supplies. Moreover, it can help in finding a food vendor with experience in sustainable practices, which schools can achieve by incorporating language about sustainability into their RFPs.
4. Buy Local
“If I have learned anything from many farm tours” reflected Bush, “ it’s that a farmer’s work is extremely hard and almost never done. I encourage you to support your local farmer, and often!” The first step in buying local is establishing your parameters. Bush suggests starting with a radius of 200-250 miles and narrowing this area with each year. After determining your radius, source farms within the area, as well as food distributors that can help in achieving your goal. One good place to start is The Common Market, which offers wholesale local food distribution in the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, and the Texas regions. Another distributor offering local produce in the Delaware Valley is J. Ambrogi Foods. Many schools across the country are taking advantages of such services and buying local. In fact, 42 percent of school districts across the country, or 42,587 schools, surveyed by the USDA in 2015 participate in “farm to school” activities, which entail connecting local farmers and food producers to schools, teaching children where their food comes from, and expanding market opportunities for agricultural producers. Another 16 percent of the surveyed school districts indicated plans to start “farm to school activities” in the future.
5. Eliminate Waste
Eliminating waste can be tackled in many ways. One major strategy suggested by Bush is to eliminate bottled drinks, which will significantly reduce waste but which may also have a large bottom line impact. A more feasible starting point is to compost kitchen prep scraps either on-site or with a compost hauler, and to donate unused food. Many restaurant operators have been using such strategies in eliminating their waste, as the National Restaurant Association reported in 2018 that one in five restaurant operators donate their prepared, unused food to charities. Schools are also tackling their waste, a lot of which can be diverted from the landfill. In fact, a study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that 78 percent of school trash can be recycled or composted. In addition to expanding recycling and composting programs, schools have used various creative strategies, such as scheduling recess before lunch and extending lunch periods, which, according to the USDA, can reduce plate waste by nearly one-third.
6. Partner with the Facilities Department
Collaborate with the facilities department to replace older equipment that uses excessive energy and water with newer technologies such as, low-flow faucets, LED light bulbs, and motion sensor light switches. Use of energy-saving equipment is becoming increasingly common, with eight out of ten restaurant operators using energy-efficient lighting and six out of ten using programmable heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Use of water-saving equipment is also growing, with flow-flush toilets used by about half of food service operators and other innovations, such as faucet aerators and high-efficiency, pre-rinse spray valves used by one in four.
7. Celebrate and Share Your Accomplishment
After successfully implementing sustainability practices, celebrate and share these accomplishments. This will highlight the positive change you affected and can inspire others to do the same.
Interested in learning more on this topic? Here are some helpful resources: To learn practical tips for reducing food waste in a food service operation, click here. To learn how plant-based menus can be used to reduce your school’s climate impact, click here.
By Maryana Dumalska, a Sustainability Intern at Boyer Sudduth Environmental Consultants, and a junior at Boston College studying Environmental Geosciences and Economics.
Published in the PAISBOA Friday Flyer Vol. VIII, No.5, March 22, 2019.