ISS Facility Services recently announced a new program to cut food waste in half across all its U.S. kitchens. This is the first major U.S. food services company aiming to accomplish this by 2024—six years before the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal target of halving global food waste by 2030.
“Ultimately, we want a big challenging goal to drive the right behavior in kitchens,” says Paul Fairhead, CEO of ISS Guckenheimer, the company’s food services brand. “We’re really using the opportunity of the return to office—that new day in food service—to make this a key part of the culture and culinary programs.”
By disrupting the food service industry, the COVID-19 pandemic created even greater opportunities for positive impact, according to Fairhead: “In a lot of ways, the great restaurant reset is true. There are a lot of aspects here where the industry can right some wrongs and build back better, [this initiative] is part of that.”
ISS is partnering with food technology company Winnow to bring its hardware and software into more than 200 kitchens. Winnow’s solution captures food waste data and presents insights to kitchens in real time, encouraging teams to better prevent or use excess food.
Fairhead’s teams routinely track food waste numbers, but because each kitchen has its own baseline, it’s difficult to look at the larger picture. Now they’re using Winnow to benchmark food waste efforts against each other, the industry, and the globe.
“We live in a world where data is easily available, but it’s only valuable if you actually use it to make decisions and perhaps change behaviors,” Fairhead tells Food Tank.
“We’ve been monitoring food waste in kitchens since I was in culinary school, but what do you do with that data—does it just sit on a piece of paper? The beauty of this solution is it’s up there in lights. That very optical nudge is hugely powerful.”
Technology can make food waste reduction easy and intuitive, but these initiatives need a human touch for long-term traction, according to Fairhead. He suggests that kitchens report food waste levels daily and create a healthy and fun competition between teams by prominently displaying benchmarks.
“Food waste is not a new thing and managing food waste is not a new thing,” Fairhead emphasizes, “but having a champion onsite to drive the use of Winnow, drive the learnings of it and share it back with the team, that’s what’s most powerful.”
The business case for reducing waste in the kitchen is easy: higher food waste is higher food cost. But beyond that, Fairhead believes all large organizations have a responsibility to drive change. ISS has the scope and breadth to shift markets and behaviors, he says: “We’re seeing climate change and we’re seeing impact on the environment, which is affecting all of us. This is one way to support the right kind of behavior.”
Fairhead emphasizes that this initiative isn’t a corporate mandate—and that’s why it will work.
“If we’re trying to drive these as corporate mandates, it’s hard to get traction and buy-in for a large organization,” Fairhead explains. “But when it’s coming through the organization, that’s what gives me hope. We’ve got thousands of employees that want to make a difference.”
In addition to food programs, ISS teams are championing waste reduction initiatives surrounding common single-use items like vinyl gloves and plastic wrap from deliveries.
“Ultimately, we’re not doing this to tick the box, we’re doing this because we want to drive change,” Fairhead says. “We’re not going to stop at 50 percent food waste reduction, either. The bottom line is we want almost no food waste.”
Photo courtesy of Winnow