What you’re getting wrong about sustainable event food
When considering sustainable event food there are plenty of pitfalls. Plan your sustainable food choices carefully.
When planning a sustainable event the menu and catering are amongst the most important elements. Food choices can significantly impact the overall carbon footprint of your event. And even though most of the industry is aware of this, there are still some pretty large pitfalls that event profs can fall into if we don’t educate ourselves about the wider implications of our choices. We’ve come up with four areas that we think every event organiser needs to consider carefully;
1. Eat local?
‘Eat local’ is a mantra often repeated by those looking to enhance sustainability, whether for individual lifestyle choices, or for an event, with ‘buy local’ a frequent recommendation to reduce the carbon footprint of catering.
But, from an emissions perspective, ‘buy local’ can be one of the most misguided pieces of advice. Yes, buying and eating food from local suppliers is great for the local economy but actually the transportation of food tends to account for a relatively small share of its overall greenhouse gas emissions. You may be surprised to know that the food grown in the UK for UK consumers can actually have a larger carbon footprint than the footprint of similar food grown overseas
That’s because agriculture in the UK tends to rely more heavily on energy-intensive inputs, such as fertilisers and machinery, which can significantly increase the carbon footprint of domestically produced food. In addition, many crops can only be grown during certain times of the year in the UK, and out-of-season production requires heated greenhouses or the use of artificial lighting to keep plants growing. All of this increases the energy consumption required to produce domestic food, thereby increasing its carbon footprint.
While importing food from overseas may require transportation which contributes to the carbon footprint, it is often more energy efficient to transport food that isn’t a product of energy intensive agricultural practices over long distances in bulk by ship or rail, than by individual trucks for local or regional distribution. Surprised? It might be time to take a look at exactly where your food is coming from.
2. The menu
Bearing in mind the above and with seasonality and sourcing in mind, you should certainly try and choose your ingredients carefully to try and minimise your event menu’s carbon impact. You probably already know that beef has a high carbon impact, followed by lamb, farmed prawns, pork, poultry, fish (both farmed and wild catch). The debate about whether to go fully vegetarian is alive and well in the European events’ market and it’s a choice that’s very much down to you and your event. But for pure sustainability a vegetarian menu probably can’t be beaten.
Companies like Klimato are working with venues such as Exclusive Collection to add food impacts to event menus to help your guests make more informed decisions and to emphasise the thought that has gone into planning the menu.
3. Cutlery, crockery and glasses
According to estimates, England uses 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery — most of which are plastic — and 721 million single-use plates per year, with only 10% of these recycled. To give you an idea of the scale, if 2.7 billion pieces of cutlery were lined up they would go round the world over eight and a half times.
The UK Government is banning single-use items completely from October 2023 (that’s a mere five months from now). But what materials should you be thinking about using instead? It isn’t as simple as just not using single-use. Your choice of material actually comes down to how often you think your items will be reused. To minimise your event carbon footprint the following calculations might be useful:
- Use glass plates and bowls if they will be reused at least 15x
- Use stainless steel plates and bowls if they will be reused at least 24x
- Use ceramic plates and bowls if they will be reused at least 118x
4. Food waste
Drinks, snacks and tea and coffee breaks are a central feature of any event as they allow your guests to network and mingle as well as giving event organisers a bit of a breathing space to ensure everything is running smoothly. Unfortunately, because of their ubiquity, it often means events are over-catered. That means a lot of food waste. In the UK it’s estimated there are about 10 million tonnes of food waste generated annually. The average event actually wastes around 15%-20% of all the food, contributing significantly to its carbon footprint. and of course it’s a significant part of the overall event budget – wasted.
How can you minimise food waste, yet ensure your guests get a good choice of food and refreshments? Companies such as Olio can help by using food waste post event. And chefs are becoming far more adept at using ‘all-of-animal’ and vegetable offcuts which previously would have been binned. So, involve your chefs in your sustainability planning and get their input on what’s possible.
If you’re interested in finding out more about sustainable event planning, our carbon footprint calculator – track – can calculate your own event’s projected and actual carbon footprint. Please get in touch, we can give you a demo and show you some more sample reports to illustrate just what it could do for you.