When I first became Sustainability Coordinator at Blue Plate Catering my first task was to decide how to launch our sustainability program.

Our company space includes a kitchen, a warehouse, and multiple office spaces; not to mention the space we occupy on-site at events.  There is no easy fix that works across the board to make all of these entities greener.

Instead of looking at specifics, I developed a three prong approach to sustainability that I always come back to in order to stay on target.

Sourcing:

What you bring into a company will decide your level of commitment to sustainability from the very beginning and will help control later aspects of sustainability, namely waste.

From office supplies, to building materials, to company vehicles, sourcing green is possible in every area of a business.

As far as specifics on how to source sustainably, that is a whole separate subject that would take up the rest of this article.  Each industry will be sourcing different items, so it’s best to research based on what your business is.

But while on the subject of sourcing, remember this is not limited simply to materials.  If you’re focusing on what you’re bringing into business, that absolutely includes vendors and organizations.

Just as you have your set of business initiatives, make sure the companies you work with on a daily basis do as well.

You can promote this along with your own personal initiatives.

Additionally, when your company as a whole or employees are looking to network, join organizations that have like-minded sustainability goals.

There are green associations in many industries.  By being part of these, you are not only promoting your interest in sustainability, but you’re also gaining access to great educational opportunities.

Waste reduction:

Just as you think about sourcing smarter, think of how you are going to dispose of what is used in your business smarter.  There is a multitude of ways to get rid of waste that doesn’t involve a landfill.  Below I’ve highlighted 3 areas.

Waste less

I know this is easier said than done, but the very first step you need to do for sustainability is examine what you’re throwing away.

Do you notice that your c-fold paper towel dispenser always releases 6 sheets instead of 1?  Well fix that problem and you’ll reduce your paper towel waste by 83% right off the start, and you’ll be saving money!

Now let’s talk about those Styrofoam cups you have next to the coffee.  Each cup costs money, even if it is only $.02.

How long will it take for a return of investment to buy a reusable coffee cup for each staff member and an extra set for next to the coffee machine?

The cost is negligible and the removal of Styrofoam will decrease the amount of toxic materials being leeched into our water stream.  By reevaluating your waste production, you’ll see waste to reduce right away.

Non-landfill waste removal

There are three main ways to remove waste that is not going end up in the landfill.

To begin, the last thing you want to do is put something in a landfill that is or will become a hazardous.  Most, if not all, towns have hazardous material drop off spots that will handle these materials properly and make sure nothing toxic is put into the environment.

Each industry is different but some commonly hazardous materials include: batteries, light bulbs, paint, cleaning supplies, expired medicine, electronics, aerosol cans, and automotive liquids.

When we talk about recycling, there are so many directions to go in.

How your company recycles is a question you have to evaluate deeper than may be expected.  Recycling copy paper and plastic bottles is well and fine ( because anything is truly much better than nothing) but looking at your industry and taking your recycling efforts to the top level is the next step to take.

If you’re a mechanic, are you recycling your scarp parts properly?  If you’re a wine bar, are all of your corks going to be turned into cork items such as shoes or cork boards?

If you’re an IT company, do your electronics get refurbished for schools and non-profits? By recycling specifically to your business, your impact will be stronger.

The final way to divert waste from the landfill is to compost the food waste.  More and more composting facilities are being developed, from large scale sites that are managed by disposal companies to small operations such as compost piles set up on farms.

As the composting locations increase, so do the materials that are compostable.  It’s like disposable silverware have been developed that are made of renewable, biodegradable materials such as corn and sugarcane.

With the development of these, and when properly disposed of, they can break down very quickly and be put into the earth as nutrient rich soil.

Donations

This last way to reduce waste is a do-good, feel-good task.  Whatever you don’t use that can have a second life, donate.

If you work in the food industry, establish a relationship with a local food shelter and get on a schedule to donate a few times a week.

If your business has a lost and found, date the items that are found and take them to a shelter after a certain amount of time has passed.  Some companies already exist that do this exact thing.

For the event industry, Special E will come in to ‘rescue’ any items that can be repurposed at the end of the evening. From flowers that go to hospital patients to wine bottles that go to artisans who make vases, donating can contribute to society while also decreasing your landfill contribution.

Education:

The final part to sustainability is to make sure the people within the company understand the initiatives.

Education is a very important part in incorporating sustainability changes into the company.  Buying some recycling bins and announcing your recycling isn’t enough if the staff doesn’t know how to recycle.

Even if a new sustainability initiative doesn’t require the assistance of the staff, say for example installing faucet aerators throughout the building, it is important that everyone knows the changes so they can be used as examples to customers and clients when describing your company’s green efforts.

By returning to sourcing, waste reduction and education, you will always be moving towards your goal of being a green leader in your industry.

About the Author:


sustainability Laura Lukas
Sustainability Coordinator, Blue Plate Catering

Laura Lukas is the Sustainability Coordinator at Blue Plate Catering (http://www.blueplatechicago.com/) in Chicago, Illinois. Her lifelong passion for conservation progressed from raising money to save rainforests in grade school to implementing recycling programs in college.

Laura received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After graduation, she worked at an organic, local food service company that taught her invaluable information about sustainable food available in the Midwest. She furthered her sustainability knowledge by attending courses at the Chicago Center for Green Technology, where she gained a better understanding of the numerous elements that go into making a business sustainable. The lessons Laura learned at CCGT have greatly influenced sustainability programs practiced at Blue Plate today.

The initiatives Laura currently spearheads at Blue Plate include coordinating on-site recycling at commonly used venues, and incorporating sustainability.