Contract feeder Compass Group North America announced an initiative to track, manage and reduce energy and water resources across its 9,900 cafés and its supply chain. To help manage this initiative and chart its progress, Compass worked with a consulting and software company to develop a web-based system that allows its chefs and managers to track the progress made in reducing the company's carbon footprint.


FE&S spoke with Marc Zammit, vice president of corporate sustainability initiatives, to discuss Compass Group's green efforts and more.

FE&S: Why did Compass start a sustainability program?

MZ: There are two reasons: It is the right thing to do, culturally, but we also have to match the values of the people we feed and do business with. We have always been proactive and tried to understand the future. And as a larger purchaser we had to examine what we are doing to lessen our impact on the world around us. As part of that we had to look at how we are working with our suppliers.

FE&S: Why turn your attention to managing your carbon footprint?

MZ: Our focus has always been around food and labor costs. But two years ago we anticipated that eventually our customers would come to us and ask about what we are doing to minimize the use of energy and waste. And we were anticipating that from clients in all of the segments we serve, including colleges and universities and business and industry.

FE&S: And are your clients more interested in these areas?

MZ: Our clients are asking us to be skilled about energy costs, water costs and waste costs. And this will be part of our value proposition as operators moving forward. It is amazing the amount of energy a kitchen uses compared to other parts of an office building. When you realize that you want to do something about it.

FE&S: So how are you going about tracking your carbon footprint?

MZ: On the supplier side, it's pretty complicated. We have asked our suppliers about production, transportation and packaging. We pair that information with sales to help determine our carbon footprint.

FE&S: OK, that addresses the purchasing side. How are you measuring carbon on the operational side of your business?

MZ: On the equipment side it is a little more complicated because most of our kitchens are not sub-metered. So we have our operators survey their equipment, tracking when it is turned on and off, how much food is cooked on it and whether it is Energy Star-rated. Then we partner with the Food Service Technology Center to make our calculations. We use those figures as a baseline to measure our progress.

FE&S: Any other steps you can take operationally?

MZ: So the low hanging fruit is to determine a workable kitchen operating schedule that helps better manage your energy consumption and manage against that. If you train your staff to operate in this way you can lower your footprint. We can also install other equipment, like on-demand ventilation, spray rinse valves or even an ice machine that's on a timer.

FE&S: So how is the carbon footprint monitoring going?

MZ: We are still learning.
We just launched this piece in January but based on one of the pilot models we learned that one of our clients that has a dozen cafés around the country can save $375,000 annually. And that's just the beginning. Hopefully we can keep collecting more data, share some best practices and build momentum from there.

FE&S: There can be lots of green washing and other distractions in the sustainable foodservice world. How do you and your team stay focused?

MZ: We use a software-based tool kit that gives us a way to track our progress on a monthly basis. The toolkit also allows you to build goals on a short- and long-term basis. Our clients are asking us about this on a quarterly basis when we do business reviews. So we have an interest in reporting a good story every quarter and every year.

FE&S: What advice do you have for operators just getting started in managing their carbon footprint as part of their sustainability efforts?

MZ: Look at your equipment in a very different way. Every time you enter your kitchen think of it as visiting a gas station, meaning you are pumping energy. Once you are aware of the cost impact of the equipment in your kitchen you can learn to manage it in different ways.