Food waste is increasingly garnering attention from governments, businesses and private individuals as its impact on both environmental health, food security as well as bottom lines — companies that invest in reducing food waste can expect a 14:1 ROI — are increasingly researched and understood. Now, a new pilot project initiated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with support from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and The Rockefeller Foundation hopes to make food waste in the hotel industry a thing of the past.
Food production has the largest environmental footprint of any human activity, yet one-third of the world’s available food either spoils or gets thrown away. Forty-percent of food is wasted through the supply chain in the United States and the majority of that loss comes from homes and food service industries, including the hotel industry. Improved food management strategies across food service operations present industry-transforming potential, which ultimately has led WWF and the AHLA’s Food & Beverage and Sustainability Committees to join forces to develop actionable projects to prevent food waste through better food management.
Hotel brands participating in the projects include Hilton, Hyatt, IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) and Marriott International, as well as Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, Sage Hospitality and Terranea Resort. The pilots were also developed with the support of The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise Initiative, which aims to reduce post-harvest food loss and halve the world’s food waste by 2030.
“With its substantial food service volume and broad reach with consumers, the hospitality industry is an ideal catalyst for accelerating change,” said Pete Pearson, Director of Food Waste at WWF. “Imagine every hotel breakfast buffet or conference luncheon eliminating food waste. While businesses should make food donation and landfill diversion a priority, these pilot projects will focus on food waste prevention, which is ultimately better for business and the environment.”
Recent research conducted by WWF shows a strong need for industry-wide training and education on food waste reduction among hotel properties, and a general lack of measurement and track of food waste. Each pilot project within the program has been developed to tackle a critical step along the food waste supply chain. This includes measuring food waste outputs on a regular basis, improving employee training programs, creating menus designed to limit food waste and raising awareness with customers.
“There is a lot of hesitation to make radical changes because nobody wants to detract from the customer experience,” Pearson said. “[The pilots will explore] what experience can the customers take on to not load their plates, maybe a corporate event with not as much of an overage buffer — instead of 10 percent overage they are comfortable with 1 percent? Ultimately what we want to do is see […] a shift in mentality where we don’t want to tolerate waste anymore.”
The Rockefeller Foundation is confident that hotel guests will be open to the new status quo. “We’ve already seen that hotel guests are more than willing to conserve water and energy, simply by placing a card on their pillows or hanging their towels. Our hunch is that they’ll also take action to be part of the fight to cut food waste,” said Devon Klatell, Associate Director, The Rockefeller Foundation. “And once we’ve succeeded in cutting hospitality food waste, we can take those learnings to other sectors, like restaurants and retail.”
Following the program launch, WWF, AHLA and The Rockefeller Foundation plan to roll out additional activities for individual hotel properties to participate in and encourage the entire industry to follow. A toolkit that reports on key findings, best practices and next steps to tackle food waste in the hotel industry will be published. By joining the fight against food waste, the hospitality sector can not only reduce its environmental footprint, but also improve bottom lines and elevate the ever-growing global culture of sustainability.
“Considering the tremendous energy, water and habitat loss in our food, loss and waste can no longer be accepted,” said Pearson. “The hotel industry is showing other sectors how we can move faster through improved analytics by focusing on prevention strategies. Food waste is a problem institutions can solve faster through collaboration.”