Sustainable Nutrition in the Workplace – Connecting good food and employee health
Forum for the Future and the Soil Association brought together caterers, employers and others in May 2016 to share insights and ideas for accelerating progress on sustainable nutrition in the workplace. The event was kindly hosted by Pearson with breakfast provided by Baxter Storey.
Why does sustainable nutrition in the workplace matter?
Pressures on food production and public health mean we urgently need to make sustainable, healthy and nutritious diets the norm.
28% of British adults are obese, two thirds are overweight and by 2025, we could have 5 million UK diabetics. This translates into significant productivity losses for employers. Meanwhile, with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, all businesses must now reduce their climate impacts and risks as quickly as possible.
Employees get up to a third of their daily calories in the workplace – a clear opportunity for caterers and employers to work together to influence diets for the better (and increase staff use of workplace catering) through sustainable sourcing, reducing food waste and encouraging healthy eating.
Schemes such as Food for Life Served Here exist for this purpose and are proving successful, but there is potential to make them more mainstream across workplace catering.
“Food is an overlooked area of sustainability and a real opportunity for leadership. For employee engagement, Food for Life Served Here is one of the most visible things you can do to demonstrate your sustainability credentials.”
Director of Sustainability,
How can we make more progress?
Opportunities for caterers
- Build a network of champions across the whole business, from procurement teams to chefs, to help drive change, join up thinking and get pilots going.
- Tackle problematic supply chains to get help and support to source ingredients that are harder to find, where supply chain transparency is poor, or where there’s a real or perceived higher cost.
- Improve the skills, understanding and confidence of chefs and other colleagues to deliver training without overwhelming staff time or creativity.
- Prioritise food waste: Show that cutting waste reduces costs and frees up money to invest in better ingredients. Turn resistors into advocates. Reduce portions sizes, especially from buffets where people tend to take too much.
- Assess how to engage different clients: Share insights and practical information on how to engage uninterested clients; use powerful stories, hard data and stories to do it.
- Work with your sector to accelerate progress: How might you work with your sector to help address your supply challenges? Could the whole sector collaborate to standardise food waste and packaging recycling?
- Work with partners to clarify the case for action: Ask for, and gather, more evidence on solutions and schemes (eg Food for Life Served Here), on input costs, how to reshape menus and tackle waste, meal uptake levels, staff feedback, longer-term health and wellbeing impact.
Opportunities for employers/catering clients:
- Tackle barriers to change, by highlighting short and long-term benefits: Short-term barriers include perceived or real higher costs, and general inertia, with food one of many procurement issues. Longer term, seek to quantify the other benefits, eg healthier staff, improved productivity/absenteeism.
- Appeal to recruitment, motivation and retention benefits: WWF work on the business case for sustainable catering, and Pearson’s experience, suggest a positive link between better catering and employee retention/motivation.
- Use better catering to help deliver climate commitments e.g. better catering was a clear contribution to Pearson’s climate neutrality commitments.
- Make it normal, easy and enjoyable to eat well, rather than just promoting a few healthier options. Use the opportunity to influence staff eating habits.
- Consider opening your catering up to other customers: City Hall’s café is also open to the public and gets a good influx of customers from other workplaces – good for revenues and an opportunity to promote sustainable, healthy meals to a wider audience.
Shared opportunities for caterers, suppliers and partners:
- Make the most of external validation/assurance: Done right, it will showcase your leadership and best practice efforts.
- Build more evidence to strengthen the business case: Gather and share more evidence, data and case studies, to demonstrate the impact of adopting new schemes and approaches and win over HR, Finance Directors and others, including eg improved wellbeing and productivity, increased demand for workplace catering, actual cost implications.
- Exchange knowledge and insights with other companies and caterers on dealing with tricky issues, eg communicating to staff, reducing meat consumption, cutting food waste.
- Develop great communications and awareness-raising toolkits to introduce new schemes (eg Catering Mark). Be honest with staff about the challenges to going further in your efforts (eg moving from Silver level to Gold Food for Life Served Here).
- Recognise the role of food culture and your potential to reshape it: Ensure a culture that enables proper lunchbreaks. Recognise people like different things. Empower staff to improve their health. Reshape attitudes to food and affordability (eg meat too cheap, healthy food too expensive?).
- Explore wider collaborations to shape the debate: Collaborate to drive policy change in support of healthy, sustainable eating, and to align approaches and messages.
- Arrange more seminars to explore specific barriers and questions (eg what is meant by “less but better meat”) or to bring together pioneers with those who want to get started.