Be More Sustainable at Work, Starting with Food

by FoodPrint


People in the US spend a lot of time at work: on average, we spend roughly 40 percent of our active hours working. So when you think about making changes to the way to you eat — shrinking your foodprint — factoring in those hours at work and how you eat there is an important part of the equation. Here are our tips for a more sustainable work lunch.

Go Meatless at Lunch

Sometimes you barely have the time to shovel food into your mouth, much less worry about what it is or where it’s from. But lunch is probably the biggest meal you eat at work and therefore the easiest place to make an impact. The best way to reduce your lunch foodprint is to eat less meat. It’ll go a long way towards reducing your environmental impact. We’re not saying go cold — or no — turkey. Try Meatless Monday, for instance. Pack or buy lunches that put plants at the center.

Cut Your Food Waste at Work

Whether it’s leftovers from a restaurant meal, excess takeout or the scraps from your brownbag lunch, it’s tempting to leave those leftovers behind, or moldering in the office fridge — or in the garbage. But letting food head to the landfill is the worst thing you can do with food waste. You can follow many of the same tips to cut food waste at work as at home: mainly, only order what you think you can eat, label your leftovers and set a reminder to eat them.

Start a Compost Program at Work

We applaud you for taking control of your personal food waste, but what to do about your colleagues? Start a composting program! It sounds like a big lift, but once you get it going, you’d be surprised how quickly it becomes part of the company culture. The easiest way to do it is to get some plastic buckets with lids that will fit in the communal freezer. Put up a sign that explains what can be composted. Then, once the buckets are full, take them to a nearby compost collection point and dump them. Or, take them to your own compost pile. Get a few like-minded colleagues to share the load of taking the compost to the drop off point. Hopefully, once your colleagues see how easy it is, they’ll set up their own compost collection at home.

Use Less Plastic and Fewer Disposable Products

Food packaging is terrible for our environment. At work, lunch takeout is public enemy number one. Nearly all takeout food comes with a side of single-use, disposable items. There are food wrappers; boxes; plastic cutlery; drink containers with lids and straws; condiment packages; the gazillion napkins; and a plastic or paper bag to hold it all. Oof! Get in the habit of requesting that they leave these things out. If they include them anyway, give them back. You can also bring your own, reusable containers to be filled up at your lunch spot, and some places may even give you a discount. Each straw or napkin or ketchup packet you refuse is one less that is ordered by the vendor and that ends up in a landfill. It does make a difference!

And, just because you’re bringing food from home doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Swap reusable sandwich wrappers for plastic baggies. Try reusable beeswax wrappers instead of aluminum foil. Trade plastic containers for glass or metal. Here are a lot more tips for cutting plastic out of your life.

Support Sustainable Restaurants and Caterers

Whether it’s you and a co-worker eating out for lunch, or the office hosting a catered in-house client meeting, get food from an establishment that thinks about their sourcing, their packaging, their food seasonality or all three. Here are ways to tell which restaurant is actually following sustainable practices.

Push your Workplace to Buy Sustainable Food-Related Products

Think about all the coffee, tea, milk, creamer, sugar, paper towels, paper plates and cups, plastic cutlery, dish soap, sponges and/or bottled water that your employer buys. Get in good with the person in charge of making those purchasing decisions and see if they can switch to more sustainable suppliers. For consumables like coffee, tea, milk and snacks, push for Organic or Fair Trade Certified. Encourage bulk purchasing like a tub of sugar instead of a million tiny sugar packets.

Worried about getting your company on board? We get it — you may not want to rock the boat. So here are some arguments to help you persuade the people in charge:

  1. Some of these changes will end up saving the company money. For instance, purchasing reusable dishes, flatware, cups, cleaning supplies and hand towels may be a substantial investment up-front, but they will save the company money over time.
  2. Some of these changes will just be more expensive but might boost morale. So, justify the cost by getting a group of like-minded employees to band together to ask for better products. Frame the asks around making employees happy, and leadership can use these changes as a way to keep up morale.
  3.  Having sustainability goals can make your company look good. There’s a reason big businesses have been chasing millennial customers with corporate responsibility for years now. Consumers prefer brands that are more sustainable. So pitch your company’s new interest in sustainability as an additional way to find and retain more customers.

Remember, you can always bring your own green items if your company won’t get with the program.

Things to Keep at Your Desk to Make Sustainability A Breeze

  • Reusable flatware.
  • Stainless steel cups, glasses or ceramic mugs for drinks.
  • Cloth napkins and hand towels.
  • Reusable baggies and containers for those inevitable leftovers.
  • Oil and vinegar for salad dressing.

Are you a juice or smoothie addict? Make your own at home: cut down on waste and save money in the long run.

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