Cleaning Up Our Plates
July 5, 2018, 6:04 am
“We cannot avoid the effects of having 50 million meal occasions that we project will be consumed at Expo 2020 – but we can connect minds with experts and the industry to find innovative solutions that will minimise our impact on the environment.” Darren Tse, Head of Catering, Cleaning & Waste – Event Operations at Expo 2020 Dubai
The food and drinks we consume profoundly affect not only the health of our bodies, but also the planet.
From the effects of pesticides absorbed into the soil and local waterways, to the methane gas produced by farm animals, to the carbon emissions emitted through the transport and storage of food (not to mention the waste), the food and beverage (F&B) industry contributes as much as one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states that agriculture contributes 14% of greenhouse gas emissions, while the UN Food and Agriculture organisation says livestock creates more Co2 than transportation, at 18% of total greenhouse gases.
Mega events, particularly, pose unique challenges in the ecosystem they operate within. With 25 million visits, plus thousands of employees and participants, expected during the six months of Expo 2020 Dubai, F&B is a vital component of the event.
We cannot avoid the effects of having 50 million meal occasions that we project will be consumed at Expo 2020 – but we can connect minds with experts and the industry to find innovative solutions that will minimise our impact on the environment.
We are already working on this, drafting a pioneering document that will set both baseline and aspirational requirements for all of our F&B stakeholders. We would hope that perhaps these standards could give others in the industry pause for thought, too.
Expo 2020 expects to work with a wide array of F&B suppliers and caterers, including SMEs, who will make up at least 20% of our outlets, and corporations, both local and international.
The baseline sustainability standards that we set are not intended to be a utopian way of doing business purely for the six-month event; perhaps they could lead to a permanent shift across the industry in a more sustainable direction.
Examples include setting minimum levels for locally produced and organic food; enforcing an ethically-sourced animal products policy; reducing waste through smart packaging and various portion options; setting standards for utility consumption and efficient equipment, as well as guidelines for reusing the equipment post-Expo; and facilitating the reuse or recycling of waste.
We will push to go even further, by also encouraging our partners to sign up to ‘aspirational’ goals. They would choose certain areas of their business where they want to focus their sustainability efforts, or which may have the greatest impact.
For example, an SME selling burgers could aspire to use 50% local UAE produce, going above and beyond the baseline standard that Expo will set. Every time ingredients are imported, the carbon footprint is obviously increased.
This cycle impacts not only the importing country but also the source location. For example, the dairy industry alone contributes three to four per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while also adding pressure on land and water supply.
The transportation of food and animals also contributes significantly to the global carbon emissions. Producing food locally not only creates responsibility for the environmental damage but also reduces carbon emissions from the shipping, as well as storage facilities.
We are fortunate to be hosting this Expo in a nation known for its forward-thinking approach; with recent developments in agriculture technology we have the opportunity to bring local sourcing and circular economy conversations to life.
In another example, a large-scale caterer for Expo may choose to concentrate on improving the efficiency of their equipment, adopting our aspirational levels rather than the baseline.
Using appliances that require less electricity or water, or can be automatically turned off or put into low-power mode when not in use, can sometimes cost more up front but lead to dramatically lower utility consumption and bills. When a large food supplier invests in efficient equipment, it can impact the supply chain, bringing down costs for other, smaller food companies to follow suit.
These aspirations would set the bar even higher, not only for the relevant company but also across the Expo ecosystem and the wider F&B industry. If an SME can lead the way with local products, why can’t other restaurants? When businesses learn about the savings from using more sustainable equipment, they too would want to improve their environmental credentials.
In the case of the large-scale caterer, the cost savings of scale would ideally mean that their increasingly sustainable methods used for Expo would be filtered through to the rest of their business, which then affects the supply chain and the rest of the industry.
We expect the changes will also positively disrupt supply chains by increasing demand for sustainably sourced food and beverages and more environmentally-friendly packaging and equipment, thus reducing prices and increasing demand even further.
We believe this sustainable approach to Expo 2020’s F&B programme will also provide our partners and suppliers with inspiration and motivation to make meaningful and long-lasting efforts to rebalance their impact on the environment. Healthy competition could lead to even greater results.
Changing how we do business and fit into the $6 trillion global F&B industry so that we operate in harmony with the environment is an immediate priority for Expo.
By setting baseline standards of sustainability, Expo 2020 can influence our F&B vendors and caterers to think creatively about how they can solve this global challenge. While we cannot elevate expectations so high that the industry is unable to work with us, there are a number of areas that we can address and that our partners will enthusiastically welcome.
Expo 2020 will support efforts made by our partners and suppliers by educating visitors and participants about the benefits of living more sustainable lifestyles, through interactive and engaging content throughout the Expo site. We aim to be a catalyst for real, long-term impact.
Photo Credit – www.arabianbusiness.com