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What a waste

With more than one billion tons of food lost or wasted every year, workplaces must play their part to be more food efficient, says Hamish Cook, Head of Group Food Services, ISS

How many times have you sat in a meeting where a platter of sandwiches or snacks were left untouched in the middle of the room? Or perhaps a workplace canteen where colleagues only pick the sides of an unwanted lunch option? When someone mentions food waste, often restaurants, retailers or households spring to mind, but it is important that businesses tackle the issue in their shared workplaces too. With this winter shaping up to be the first time in two years when global offices will be full again, and many of us already regularly returning to our workplaces, now is the perfect time for businesses to consider their food efficiency in the workplace.

It is more important than ever that we reduce food waste. Firstly, food supply chains have been severely disrupted by the war in Ukraine, while spiralling inflation is raising concerns of famine all around the world. It is essential we minimise food waste to make the most of the resources we have.


Reducing the amount of food we throw away can also help businesses meet their sustainability goals. A third of the world’s largest companies have made net zero commitments and attention is turning to how they are going to be met. A recent survey by ISS of facilities management professionals in global businesses also found that ‘environmental sustainability’ has risen to third in their priorities when it comes to managing an office. Minimising food waste can play a key part in this. Food production is responsible for a third of all carbon emissions, and businesses can make huge carbon savings by using food more efficiently. Cutting back on waste will also mean businesses need to buy less food, potentially reducing costs in a challenging economic environment.

At ISS we serve over one million meals a day in hospitals, schools, and organisations around the world, so we are acutely aware of the role workplaces can play in tackling food waste. Many workers will have five meals or more in the office every week. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more remote work in general, we also see that many companies are using free breakfast or subsidised meals to tempt employees back to shared workplaces. With this amount of food being consumed in offices on a daily basis, it is imperative that we all work to cut down the amount of it that goes to waste.


Technology will play a key role in this. We work with Winnow, which has developed AI that allows businesses to track food consumption in the kitchen and restaurant, meaning businesses can see trends in their kitchens’ production methods and employee’s eating habits on a daily basis. This knowledge can be used to identify where the most waste is occurring. In our digital world, data is king, and seeing these trends in eating habits can also help office kitchens or facilities teams to plan the food they order and use. In the first half of 2022, companies we work with who were using the tool saved on 201k of wasted meals, which equates to 80 tonnes of food and 346 tonnes of CO2 saved.


There are other ways businesses can manage their facilities to reduce food waste in their workspaces: using effective planning systems and tools to schedule and plan events to ensure all stakeholders understand the number of guests and eating preference of these guests reduces a huge amount of waste. Other initiatives include collaborating via purchasing partnerships with like-minded organisations. By sharing forecasts and production data across the supply chain, we enable greater efficiency and less waste. Finally, dedicating more menu space to plant-based options will also have a big cumulative impact on overall sustainability and carbon emission reductions in the food supply chain.

Sustainability is the major issue of our time, and it is important that businesses become more environmentally friendly in all aspects of their operations, including food. Earlier this year, we signed the Cool Food Pledge – a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food we serve globally by 25 per cent by 2030. We’ve also committed to halving our food waste by 2027. Catering and facilities management leaders who sign-up to codes like this and can show their commitment to cutting back on environmental impact can make themselves an attractive partner or supplier to those who are looking for support in reaching their own sustainability goals.

By properly planning how food is consumed in their workplaces, by utilising the latest technology and not least by working more closely together across the entire food industry, businesses can move closer to achieving their own environmental goals and help alleviate pressure on global food supplies. The time to act is now.

About Sarah OBeirne

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