Do's and Dont's for Making Sustainable Food and Beverage Choices

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Patricia Griffin
Green Hotels Association

Being green is about one thing: minimizing. Minimizing waste. Minimizing the use of resources. Combine those two and you'll minimize expenses and the impact on the environment. Greening your food and beverage can be a good first step into the world of green meetings.

I promise it's less complicated and pricey than it may initially appear and by making more ecofriendly choices, you'll create a positive statement about your event while saving time and money.

Every aspect of food and beverage can be "greened." The first consideration of what will be served-the menu-should start with where the food originates. Choosing locally grown, fresh produce and protein is ideal. The goal is to reduce pollution caused by transportation.

If you think about what it takes pollutionwise to serve French wine, beef from Argentina, apples from Venezuela and tomatoes from Mexico, you can quickly understand the issue. The average distance the food on a conference luncheon plate has traveled is 1,500 miles! Meeting planners would be wise to have a sit-down meeting with the chef to determine menus.

Buffet-style meals are best because guests can choose the foods they like and the quantity they prefer. There is much less waste from buffet service than from plated service.

If you choose to have a menu cards, it should indicate how and where produce was grown and that it is the freshest and healthiest option available. Provide attendees with the rationale behind menu choices. Many people are unaware that it requires more energy to produce cattle than fruits, grains and vegetables.

Meeting planners and venues can partner with area organic wine producers, tea/coffee companies and local farmers. Beverages from a dispenser rather than bottles or cans are a huge savings in dollar cost as well as in waste.

To simplify recycling of beverage containers, it's best to focus on either cans or bottles or plastic rather than a mix of all three.

Of course, leftover food should be donated. (Check the local Good Samaritan laws before donating.) If possible, waste food should be composted.

To reduce food waste, extra accurate headcounts have been found to be helpful. Ask your attendees to sign up for meals. Allow them to pre-select their meal sizes-some may not want all courses while some may prefer smaller portions. Some meeting planners I work with say they always under-order food and have never had a problem.

This list of greening ideas is just the beginning of green meeting food and beverage particulars. Without a doubt, every meeting planner, venue host, hotelier and attendee will find more ways to tweak aspects of their event to be more green as we all move forward in helping the planet. I challenge you to make your next meeting as green as possible.

Some Other Dos and Don'ts:

>> DON'T offer individual servings or packets

>> DON'T use saucers under coffee cups

>> DO re-plate items left from breakfast for the morning break

>> DO put desserts on one large plate so guests can take what they want

>> DO use edible garnishes

>> DO opt for fresh rather than packaged produce

>> DO use lidded carafes of ice water rather than bottles

>> DON'T pre-fill water glasses

>> DO give attendees mugs for coffee, not throwaway cups



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