Foodservice Footprint Unknown-3 Solving the culture and data challenge Interviews: Industry professionals

Solving the culture and data challenge

Creating a sustainability-focussed culture and getting credible data to reduce menu impacts are two urgent challenges for HaFS businesses. Amy Fetzer chews over potential solutions with Elbha Purcell, Director of Knowledge Labs, Nutritics. 

With net zero targets now the norm, and senior management finally bought in to the urgency of making sustainability business as usual, the challenge for many hospitality and foodservice businesses (HaFS) now is making sustainable practices a reality. 

One key challenge in achieving this is getting boots on the ground on board, and taking action throughout the entire business. 

Another is scope 3. Dominated by ingredients, it can account for over 90% of the overall emissions created by the industry, according to the latest figures from Zero Carbon Forum. So understanding the impact of ingredients, and then using this to decarbonise menus is a necessity.

Knowledge, as they say, is power. Combine that with giving team members the agency to act and you have a potent catalyst for action, argues Elbha Purcell, Director of the newly-launched Knowledge Labs, at food-data specialists Nutritics. Especially now food footprinting software, such as that offered by Nutritics, enables teams to understand the impacts of different ingredients and recipes. And to see in real time what the impacts are of rebalancing dishes or swapping out high-impact ingredients. 

We at Footprint have been arguing that sustainability training should be mandatory for nearly a decade because we see it as essential to driving genuine organisational change. And staff seem thirsty to improve their knowledge. Indeed, a recent survey undertaken by Nutritics at UK contract caterer BM Caterers revealed that staff felt a lack of awareness was the main challenge to introducing sustainability into their workplace. 

But as I write this in the midst of more extreme, life-and-livelihood altering weather, it’s clearer than ever, that, to achieve the rapid transformation needed to secure a liveable future on our planet, businesses need each and every team member throwing their weight behind this transition. Everyone needs to understand what sustainability means, why it’s important and how they personally can support the transition to sustainable practices.

In hospitality and foodservice, this means employees need to be able to answer critical questions like: What is a carbon footprint? What contributes to ours as a business? What are the environmental impacts of food? How can these be measured? What is a sustainable diet? How can we reduce the environmental impact of our recipes? And why is food waste important?

But getting the right training, and delivering it effectively, can be challenging. Yet, once staff understand the issues, another barrier can be providing them with the data to reduce business impacts – such as ingredient impacts.  

“We saw that lot of our clients across the hospitality sector were struggling in critical areas of importance such as food-related sustainability – a massive component of scope 3 emissions, compliance and wellbeing,” observes Elbha Purcell, Director of Knowledge Labs. “Hotels, restaurants, pub groups, wholesalers – no matter their size, many had areas where perhaps expertise or resources were a little light. We realised we have an opportunity to help using our methodologies – including data on the nutritional and environmental impacts of ingredients and recipes – to structure their strategies and support around food-related sustainability, compliance and wellbeing.”

“Scope 3 is the biggest contributor to HaFS businesses footprints – largely because of the huge impact of ingredients” says Purcell. “Our expertise in food means this is an area we can add value for our customers. Together, we can identify where they need support. Are they struggling on their journey to net zero? Do they want to look at their carbon emissions, identify their hotspots and find how they can reduce them? Do they want support in the reformulation of menus? 

“Employee engagement is a key need too. Time is short. There are a lot of burdens on the team. We all have these policies and strategies towards sustainability, but if you’re not bringing your employees on that journey with you, it can be a tick box exercise. You need to give employees that sense of purpose. Education is empowerment.”

It is also a powerful recruitment and retention tool. Figures from Nutritic’s and GCA research with hospitality staff reveals that sustainability is a big factor in career choices. 94% of staff consider a company’s social and environmental responsibility when choosing a place to work. Half (50%) have accepted one job over another partly because the company was more sustainable. More than four in five (84%) are more likely to stay in a hospitality job for longer if their employer has a positive environmental impact. 

But, observes Purcell, while hospitality teams are keen to be a part of a business with a strong sustainability ethos, they don’t tend to have 45 minutes free every week to attend webinars and do training to improve their understanding of the issues and how to apply it in their workplace. 

What is more workable is education delivered in short, snackable sessions. So, the newly formed Knowledge Labs has created a series of sustainability education briefs, which can be delivered during the daily morning brief – one a week over a 12-week period. They’re 10 minutes each, on different sustainability topics each time, with an engagement activity at the end, like a quiz, and links to further information. Starting with carbon, right up to understanding the impact on the supply chain of food sustainability, food waste, energy, water and biodiversity. Knowledge Labs trains the trainers – usually the general or site manager – on each module, who deliver them to their teams, every week in person or online. 

The sessions aim to bring sustainability into the forefront, but in a practical manner where people can discuss and share ideas. When BM Caterers undertook the programme with 10% of their workforce, respondents fully aware of sustainability and its importance to our planet increased by 56% as a result of the programme. Alongside this, the number who would now always encourage team members to follow sustainable practices increased by nearly a third (30%).

“The catering teams can also throw any questions back to Knowledge Labs to get the expertise of our sustainability, compliance and software directors. We’ve not come across a question yet in sustainability that Dr Laura Kerwin – our sustainability lead – can’t answer! And, if Knowledge Lab clients are already using Nutritics software, say for footprinting, food waste or nutrition, then that can be built into training.

“When it comes to decarbonising menus, alongside our recipe foot printing tool, we have lots of insight we can share. We can advise them on lower carbon swaps which will still deliver on flavour and texture to help them quickly get on that journey, which is really helpful when time and resources are tight for chefs and the innovation teams who help them. And, as our software delivers scientifically-based ingredient impact information, we also provide credible, transparent data so our customers can quantify and publicise what they’re doing without fear of it being seen as greenwashing.”

More importantly, such approaches should lead to tangible action. With studies indicating that ecological tipping points could occur much sooner than expected, the combination of data and engagement provide the potential to give businesses the tools to drive the transformation needed to secure our futures.