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Food Excess: The Neglected Issue In The Hospitality Industry

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Benjamin Lephilibert, Founder of LightBlue Environmental Consulting, writes. Travelling millennials, who will outnumber Boomers in Asia by 2020, have much higher expectations when it comes to the “green” credentials of the accommodations they select.

The good news is they will continue pushing the industry, from hostels to 5-star luxury resorts, in this direction. Energy, water, waste, chemical consumption or support for local communities are now issues that hotels take into consideration when adopting a sustainability approach, whether they do so for ethical, financial, or branding reasons. However, there is a fundamental aspect of hotel operation that remains neglected. It’s one with a staggering environmental impact that is so obvious that all see it but no one talks about it. The problem is so seriously ignored that it’s not included in the criteria for the most advanced green hotel certification schemes.  And it can cause tremendous damage to a hotel’s income statement. Too often considered as a necessary evil by hoteliers, food waste is the elephant in the room that the vast majority of operators still try hard to ignore.

When I get to share what we do at LightBlue to help hotels to address their Food Excess issue, the typical reaction I get is: “it’s nice, but what do you do, you get hotels to reduce the variety of food?” Or “you can’t force people to finish their plates, can you?”. The answer is a clear no, we cannot and will not do that, as guest satisfaction and brand standard are central in every improvement offered to our partners. However, we realized through our experiences that by implementing a food excess monitoring system that uses clear categories (Spoilage waste, preparation waste, buffet waste and customer plate waste) we’ve been able to help properties reduce their food waste by 45%.

Although hoteliers have not yet gotten on board, food waste has recently made it into the headlines of several international business publications including: Bloomberg, the Financial Times, and CNN. And countries all over the world are beginning to realize the true negative impact of food wasteThe United States plans to cut their food waste by 50% by 2030; and the European Union is being even more ambitious as they plan to do the same but by 2020. The impetus for these programs is clear. As a recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states, “The impact of food waste is not just financial. The vast amount of food going to landfills makes a significant contribution to global warming”. As such, the United Nations just recently set food waste as one of their most urgent UN Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 12.3).

If Public Organisations, International bodies, and business media recognize the severity of the problem of food waste, then why aren’t hotels willing to face this issue?

When the word “hotel” is brought up, the feelings and sensations that it conjures are typically thoughts of luxury and relaxation – a getaway, an escape for all kinds of people from whatever stress and responsiblities they are facing in their daily lives. With these expectations, hotels have to please their customers and that oftentimes means serving an abundance of food for their guests. Whether it be via an a la carte restaurant, or an overflowing buffet, with this abundance of food comes a significant amount of food waste.

Through the implementation of our Food Excess Audits, we’ve proved this to be true. One hotel we assessed in Bangkok, Thailand wasted over 1300 kilograms of edible food in just seven days, which amounts to a shocking 70 tons per year. After implementing our Food Excess Solution Program, the result was 5,635 kilograms of food saved within 5 months, coupled with an average savings of 2.29% off of monthly food costs. The financial savings for that property are in tens of thousands of USD per years, and the positive impacts resulting from the decrease in food waste is a great marketing/communication opportunity as well, as these 5.6 tonnes represent 840 days worth of food for a family of four.

Reducing food waste is so much more than just reducing loss of edible resources. Look beyond the food waste and into what is really happening by scrutinizing the whole food chain. Where are we sourcing our food (food miles)? How much energy is needed to harvest, process, package and transport that food? Food loss and waste adds up to a significant amount of resources being wasted, specifically needless energy, labor, land pollution, water and more.

WRAP UK, The True Cost of Food Waste within Hospitality and Food Service, Nov 2013We can’t expect every hotelier to wholeheartedly embrace sustainability, even though those who have are harvesting the benefits in terms of staff retention, reduced operational costs –energy, water, disposable and recyclable wastes, chemicals, higher guest satisfaction, and branding. But how can we continue to ignore the issues when small resorts have been found to waste up to 150 tons of edible food per year? Or that a staggering 36% of all food purchased ends up in the bin? That when taking into account energy used, water used, labour cost, mis-allocation of financial resources and loss revenue for that food that could have been sold, the actual true cost paid by a hotel for food waste can reach a stunning $800,000  for one  large (300 room) resort? Nobody you might think, or at least no one with understands business and has a sense of responsibility.

However, the truth is that hoteliers are still turning a blind eye on their “Food Waste Situation”. Classic KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as the Food Cost % and Total Revenue from Food and Beverage remain almost exclusively the only indicators of financial performance of food outlets and banquets, instead of looking as well at what is being lost between purchasing of food up to the end of service.

Business is business, and the bottom line remains the same: how much does it cost, and how much can I save. Our Food Excess Solutions program can give hotels an unprecedented understanding of their food waste situation (how much, where, when, what is it, why, and how much does it cost), a practical way to monitor food excess, and actionable solutions along the value chain.

It helps move the issue of food waste higher up on the hotel general agenda, a clear benefit from an environmental perspective can also be measured while building the capacity of your employees, and it helps hotels save a lot of money (with a very short payback period). And in this situation, greed is good for everyone.

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These 5 Green Office Mistakes Are Costing You Money

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eco-friendly green offices
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Stokkete | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/cyano

The sudden interest in green business is very encouraging. According to recent reports, 42% of all companies have rated sustainability as an important element of their business. Unfortunately, the focus on sustainability will only last if companies can find ways to use it to boost their ROI.

Many businesses get so caught up in being socially conscious that they hope the financial aspect of it takes care of itself. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to go green and boost your net income at the same time.

Here are some important mistakes that you will want to avoid.

Only implementing sustainability on micro-scale

The biggest reason that brands are going green is to improve their optics with their customers. Too many businesses are making very minor changes, such as processing paperwork online and calling themselves green.

Customers have become wary of these types of companies. If you want to earn their business, you are going to need to go all the way. Bring in a green business consultant and make every feasible change to demonstrate that you are a green organization from top to bottom.

Not prioritizing investments by long-term ROI

It isn’t realistic to build an entirely green organization overnight. You will need to allocate your capital wisely.

Before investing in any green assets or services, you should always conduct a long-term cost benefit analysis. The initial investment for some green services may be over $20,000. If they don’t shave your cost by at least $3,000 a year, they probably aren’t worth the investment.

Determine which green investments will have the best pay off over the next 10 years. Make these investments before anything else. Then compare your options within each of those categories.

Implementing green changes without a plan

Effective, long-term planning is the key to business success. This principle needs to be applied to green organizations as well.

Before implementing a green strategy, you must answer the following questions:

  • How will I communicate my green business philosophy to my customers?
  • How will running a green business affect my revenue stream?
  • How will adopting green business strategies change my monthly expenses? Will they increase or decrease them?
  • How will my company finance green upgrades and other investments?

The biggest mistake that too many green businesses make is being overly optimistic with these forecasts. Take the time to collect objective data and make your decisions accordingly. This will help you run a much more profitable green business.

Not considering the benefits of green printing

Too many companies believe that going paperless is the only way to run a green organization. Unfortunately, going 100% paperless it’s not feasible for most companies.

Rather than aim for an unrealistic goal, consider the option of using a more environmentally friendly printer. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better than the alternative.

According to experts from Doranix, environmental printers have several benefits:

  • They can process paper that has been completely recycled.
  • They consume less energy than traditional printers.
  • They use ink that is more environmentally friendly.

You want to take a look at different green printers and compare them. You’ll find that some will meet your needs as a green business.

Poorly communicating your green business strategy to customers

Brand positioning doesn’t happen on its own. If you want to run a successful green business, you must communicate your message to customers as clearly as possible. You must also avoid the appearance that you are patronizing them.

The best approach is to be clear when you were first making the change. I’ll make an announcement about your company‘s commitment to sustainability.

You also want to reinforce this message overtime by using green labels on all of your products. You don’t have to be blatant with your messaging at this stage. Simply provide a small, daily reminder on your products and invoices.

Finally, it is a good idea to participate in green business seminars and other events. If your community has a local Green Chamber of Commerce, you should consider joining as well.

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2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
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Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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