Why Aramark’s new sustainability strategy focuses on ‘well-being’ over sustainability

Energy

You may not immediately recognize the name Aramark, but you’ve probably been in a facility where the company operates, maybe eaten the food it provides or even worn some of its clothes.

The Philadelphia-based company, which posted revenue of $16.2 billion for fiscal 2019, is one of the largest facility service providers in the world — providing food and uniforms to everywhere from Chicago’s public school district to Denver’s Red Rocks Parks and Amphitheater to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

With so many products, services, employees and customers as part of its business model, embedding sustainability throughout Aramark is no small task. But it has become a growing focus of the multinational in recent years.

That shift is not just about changing consumer trends, Kathy Cacciola, Aramark’s vice president of enterprise sustainability, told GreenBiz. It’s also about making Aramark a healthy and safe place where people can feel good about working.

“What we know is if we’re taking care of the well-being of our employees, our consumers, community members and people in our supply chain — those four constituency groups — then we are in a position to then take care of the planet,” Cacciola said.

It might seem somewhat surprising to prioritize “well-being” as the first pillar of “sustainability,” but Cacciola explained that the point of sustainable operations for the company is about making sure a holistic approach is institutional.

“I like to say that sustainability is not just me. It’s not just about Kathy,” she added. “It’s not one person. It’s about the 270,000 employees that we have as a company driving the plan forward.”

“Whether it’s employees practicing safe food handling practices or creating an environment that is supportive of diverse and inclusive perspectives, it’s each of those daily practices that our employees engage in, that’s part of how we really bring our sustainability plan to life,” she said.

‘Do well, be well’

The company’s sustainability plan was refreshed in December under this slogan: “Be Well. Do Well.”

The strategy has two priorities, built to align around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: people (which includes concerns such as employee engagement, local community support, consumer health and inclusive sourcing) and planet (focused on efficient operations and cutting food waste, packaging and emissions).

Some examples of where Aramark already has made progress: It has moved to offer more vegan and vegetarian options, as well as certified sustainable seafood.

Cacciola described the process of replacing its food options with healthier and more sustainable options — a move as much about identifying a better supply chain as engaging employees.

“We don’t necessarily want to try to ensure that our thousands of frontline team members each can identify a key trade and what is not a key trade, for example,” she said. “But rather, we make changes at the enterprise level and ensure that we transition all of our, for example, cage-free shell and cage-free liquid eggs to that version so that our team members have the responsibility for purchasing the approved product.

It’s a part of the responsible sourcing initiative that the company has implemented.

The sustainability plan is not just food, Cacciola said. “We really designed it to ensure that it connects with the different service offerings that we have and across, also, all of our lines of business, whether it’s higher education, health care, sports and entertainment, business, dining, so on and so forth,” she added.

The company also has worked on sustainability efforts around waste and transportation. 

It has a food loss and prevention strategy that has reduced more than 15 million pounds of waste since 2015. The company also has introduced some hybrid electric vehicles and route optimization software into its fleet strategy.

Holistic, whole company

How do you get sustainability to stick? Cacciola said that Aramark is working on a dual strategy. 

“We make the changes from resourcing perspectives at the center, and then they get cascaded to the field,” she said. “It really helps with uptake and implementation and, also, again, naturally meets both our environmental and social objectives at the same time that we’re meeting our business objectives of purchasing from our approved suppliers.”

And that includes the literal field. “We see a heightened level of interest in hyper-local sourcing,” Cacciola added. Using local suppliers and incentivizing suppliers to implement sustainable practices means working across the supply chain, starting from inside Aramark’s offices.

Of course, it’s still a journey, she acknowledged. “We’re really proud of the progress that we’ve made, but like every company, we’re on a journey of continuous improvement,” she said.

Aramark has faced criticism in the past for featuring unhealthy food with high-climate impacts on its menus. In October, 23 state representatives with support from the National Resources Defence Council (NRCD) sent the foodservice giant an open letter, calling on it to reduce the climate footprint of its menus.

“Their call also comes amidst growing climate protests led by young people across the country and the world demanding stronger action on climate change,” Sujatha Bergen, director of health campaigns for the health and food division of NRDC, wrote of the representatives’ letter. “Many of these protesters attend high schools and colleges where food is provided by Aramark.”

Bending the trend of business towards sustainability is not just a trend — it’s critical to continue to do business in the current environment.

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