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Monday, June 22, 2015

Afternoon in the Country embarks on zero food waste journey

When launched in early 2009 the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) embarked on developing commercial back-of-the-house food waste collection for compost practices. By late 2009 the Founding ZWZ Participants issued quotes stating "this is easy, a no brainer - why wouldn't you collect food waste for compost?" One ZWZ mission accomplished!

SFCI Team "picking the bowl"
post-Falcons game
In 2011 Elemental Impact launched the Sustainable Food Court Initiative to address sustainable best practices in front-of-the-house operations where the consumer is responsible for material disposition. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport joined as the SFCI - Airport Pilot, followed by the Georgia Dome as the SFCI - Event Venue Pilot and Concord Mills, a Simon Mall in Charlotte, NC, as the SFCI - Shopping Mall Pilot.

Challenges abound at food courts for implementing effective material management systems:
  • Common property waste and recycling contracts for the entire property
  • Landlord | tenant relationships with contractual legal restrictions and obligations
  • Franchisee | franchisor relationships with contractual legal restrictions and obligations
  • Consumer disposition and separation of food waste, recycling and trash
  • Third party products brought into the food court not purchased from the Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) or retail outlets
  • Food may be prepared in a commissary or off-site kitchen and transported to the QSR with minimal on-site preparation
  • Multiple packaging items used in the front and back-of-house by QSR’s and the landlord or property manager
  • Contracted custodial services by the landlord or property manager
In addition, each pilot category has its own unique challenges.

On June 15, 2015, Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Atlanta Chapter (LEDI | ATL) agreed to partner with Ei on a zero food waste journey at their prominent fundraiser Afternoon in the Country (AITC) hosted by the Inn at Serenbe within the Serenbe Community.

LDEI is a worldwide society of women dedicated to creating a culture in the community that fosters excellence and promotes the achievement of women in culinary professions through educational and charitable activities. Founded in New York in 1976 by Carol Brock, a food reporter for the New York Daily News, LDEI is a membership-by-invitation, philanthropic organization that provides education, networking opportunities and scholarship support.

The LDEI | ATL membership boasts nearly 100 prominent women in career paths ranging from professional chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, farmers, food retailers, event planners, cookbook authors, food journalists and historians, winemakers and wine industry professionals, food publicists, and culinary educators to hospitality executives.

Afternoon in the Country (AITC):
2013 AFITC donation check
to scholarship fund
Known as one of Atlanta’s most unforgettable food and wine tasting events, AITC is a fund-raiser for local non-profits and scholarships for women in the culinary profession. The November 8, 2015 AITC is the event's 15th Anniversary, perfect timing to embark on formal zero food waste practices.

The 2014 AITC raised over $115,000 for its beneficiaries: Georgia Organics, Wholesome WaveGlobal Growers Network, The Giving Kitchen, The Wylde Center, The Atlanta Community Food Bank and Atlanta Les Dames d’Escoffier International’s scholarship fund for women in the culinary, beverage and hospitality arts. Approximately 85% of the event’s net proceeds fund the beneficiaries.

Hosted by the Inn at Serenbe within the Serenbe Community, the AITC is held in an idyllic setting where nature, passion, creativity and community are valued. With over 1800 guests tasting delicious food samples served by nearly 40 prominent restaurants, hotels and caterers, there is a significant amount of food waste generated at the event. In the past, food waste was landfill-destined.

A crowd view under the main tent
Working closely with the SFCI Co-Chair Doug Kunnemann of Natureworks & SMAT - Sustainable Material ACTION Team, LDEI | ATL is committed to creating zero food waste practices for the 2015 AITC. In future years, the practices will extend to overall zero waste practices. The intent is for the practices to segue into standard policy for all LDEI | ATL events and other annual events in the metro Atlanta area.

AITC Event Producer Sue Ann Morgan of ideaLand gives her strong support of the Ei | LDEI ATL partnership and bringing zero food waste practices to AITC:
As Event Producer for Afternoon in the Country on behalf of Atlanta Les Dames d’Escoffier International and their beneficiaries, I am thrilled we now have Elemental Impact guiding us as we strive to create an extraordinary experience for our guests, raise money for great causes AND ensure that our event footprint is gentle on the earth.
Ei will serve as a media partner for AITC to document and publicize the zero food waste journey, including action steps taken, challenges and successes. 

The 2014 Afternoon in the Country Video showcases the event flavor and importance to the culinary community and beyond. Ticket sales are open for the 2015 AITC - note the event sells out early every year!

A zero food waste plan breaks down into three main categories, each equally important for an effective plan:

Food & Beverage (F&B) Serviceware:
Ken Fraser w/ EcoProducts
educating on compostable packaging
  • Compostable packaging – all single-use f&b serviceware must be BPI Certified compostable; an exception is pre-packaged beverages in recyclable containers, such as bottled water. 
  • Education – event foodservice providers must be educated on the WHY, WHAT & HOW to serve f&b in compostable packaging; includes support with purchasing unique serving items.
  • On-site Monitoring – volunteers visit foodservice operators upon arrival at event to observe f&b serving items provided by the establishment.
Food Waste Collection:
  • Waste | recycling bins – for the first year a three-tier bin is used:  1> Food Waste, 2> Recycling, 3> Landfill; at future events the system evolves into a two-tier system: 1> Food Waste, 2> Recycling.
  • Clear signage – the bins must be supported by clear signage designating proper disposal; visuals are most helpful.
  • Monitor attendee disposal – volunteers assist attendees with disposal of items into proper bins to prevent contamination.
Food Waste Destination:
  • Donation – ensure a plan is in-place for donation of leftover food in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
  • Compost – deliver remaining food waste, back & front-of-the-house, to a composting site operating within state food waste permit regulations.
  • Animal feed – when compostable packaging is mixed with food waste it is not fit for animal consumption; food waste generated under the same roof as meat is often not permitted for animal feed pursuant to respective State Department of Agriculture regulations due to past disease outbreaks.
The zero food waste plan is simple with plenty of examples to follow; instilling new practices at a 15-year old event may prove interesting at times.

The first SFCI - LDEI | ATL
meeting group
With Doug's leadership, the SMAT members will share their vast array of experience garnered from guiding stadiums, event venues and corporate offices with zero food waste practices implementation. The SMAT members include Rick Lombardo of NaturBags, Tim Goodman of NatureWorks, Sarah Martell of Innovia Films and Sarah Martinez | Ken Fraser of EcoProducts.

On June 15, Ei Founder Holly Elmore and Doug met with LDEI | ATL Past President & AITC Event Chair Shelley Pedersen, LDEI | ATL President Gayle Skelton and Sue Ann to discuss the potential SFCI - LDEI | ATL. It was thrilling to witness sincere enthusiasm for the industry leadership role. Most importantly, the ladies understood the far-reaching impact of AITC implementing zero food waste practices. The meeting ended with a simple, profound YES to serve as the SFCI - LDEI | ATL.

Gayle voiced her enthusiastic support of the Ei | LDEI ATL partnership:
Les Dames d'Escoffier International, a leader in the culinary arena, is 100% committed to organic, sustainability and enhancing the environmental condition of our Earth. Ei is the perfect partner for LDEI to take Afternoon in the Country, our largest fundraiser, to new dimensions. We are excited to serve as a trendsetter for zero food waste practices at future Atlanta festivals and beyond.
Holly accepting her Green
Skillet Award
With her 15 years as owner of Executive Catering & Events along with two restaurants, Holly is one of Atlanta's foodservice "old regime" and is close with many of the LDEI | ATL members. At the 2014 AITC, Holly was honored with the Green Skillet Award. The IMPACT Blog article, Ei Awards, Milestones & Recognition, features the prestigious, heart-warming honor. For a recap of Holly's long-standing, powerful foodservice industry relationships, visit The IMPACT Blog article, Annual NRA Show: fun, empowering & good for business!

The key ingredient for success - teamwork - is strongly established. Next steps include crafting a detailed action plan filled with education, communication and enthusiasm. Follow future blog articles to learn how easy zero food waste is accomplished at a premier event when the recipe is followed.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

... and the journey began with a delicious divorce from the landfill!

Sponsored by Councilmember Felicia Moore, the City of Atlanta proclaimed November 11, 2014 "Affairs to Remember Caterers Day" in recognition of sustainability efforts, and in particular the milestone of having diverted one million pounds of recoverable materials from Georgia landfills. 

Richard holding the Proclamation
Councilmember Moore read the Proclamation at a National Restaurant Association (NRA) event, hosted by the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) at The Coca-Cola Company headquarters, re-launching the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) program in Atlanta. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region 4 Chief, Materials and Waste Management Jon Johnston began the program with a recount of Atlanta's recycling and ZWZ history.

With gratitude, Affairs to Remember Caterers (ATR) General Manager Richard Wilmer accepted the Proclamation and cited mentors and partnerships instrumental to their successful recycling, food donation and collection of food waste for compost practices. 

Beyond ATR's impressive achievement, the City of Atlanta made a profound statement on the importance of recycling and food waste diversion programs to city policy.

... and the journey began with the clever August 2009 ATR The Thrill is Gone press release:
Restaurants and caterers seem to have a passionate love affair with landfills: Did you know that 1 in every 8 pounds of material in a landfill is created by food?? Well, the landfill love affair is over at Affairs to Remember Caterers, and the delicious divorce was swift.
Chef Ahmad at food
waste bin 
Earlier in 2009 ATR was designated Atlanta's First ZWZ Caterer by the Green Foodservice Alliance (GFA), the ZWZ founding organization within the GRA umbrella. As a ZWZ Participant, ATR pledged to implement and maintain the following criteria:
  • Spent grease collected for the production of bio-fuel.
  • Common recyclables (cardboard, paper, glass, plastic and metals) collected for recycling.
  • Excess food donated in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
  • Food residuals, from preparation and service, and excess food not compliant with the Food Donation Act collected for composting or other approved destinations.
In addition, ATR Managing Director Patrick Cuccaro served on the GFA Advisory Board and was instrumental to the ZWZ success. In 2012 the NRA purchased the ZWZ with intention to expand the program within the state restaurant association network. ATR retained their ZWZ leadership role through the program transition.

In 2008 ATR launched their Legacy Programs with a mission to improve the community and the environment. ATR Director of Communications Travis Taylor oversees the Legacy Programs. Through Legacy Green, sustainable practices were incorporated into every facet of operations, launching ATR into the forefront of the Green movement. In addition to zero waste practices, ATR impacts the sustainability arena in the following areas:

Food Innovation
Chef Ahmad using compost on
the original chef's garden
  • Sourcing local and organic foods
  • Serving Beanealogy's USDA organic certified coffee
  • Forging alliances with local farmers
  • Cultivating an on-premise chef's garden
  • Designing sustainable menus
  • Serving as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) location

Greening the ATR Facility
  • Motion-activated office lights
  • Low-flow restroom facilities
  • Low-flow kitchen spray hoses and valves
  • Energy-saving cooking and HVAC systems

In February 2013 ATR Executive Chef Ahmad Nourzad was honored as a Georgia Grown Executive Chef by Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black at the Annual Taste of Georgia Legislative Reception hosted by the GRA. The Georgia Grown Executive Chef Program offers Georgia-based chefs the platform to share their commitment to sustainability and buying local—tenets of Georgia Grown’s mission—throughout the State of Georgia.

Chef Ahmad crafted the Farm to Party menu offering where the client leads in creating a dynamic, culinary experience made from the freshest seasonal choice organic and/or local ingredients available. Close relationships with local farmers is key to sourcing and success.

ATR | EPA FRC meeting group
Always a leader, ATR was the first Atlanta caterer to join the EPA Food Recovery Challenge (FRC). Modeled after the EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy, the FRC is a voluntary program. 

Participants pledge to provide a food waste baseline along with annual goals to prevent food waste, donate wasted food and | or recycle food waste in a state-permitted non-landfill destination. The ZWA Blog article, EPA Food Recovery Challenge: Region IV launches FRC in hospitality sector, is an overview of the FRC along with Atlanta's stellar food waste handling history.

Indeed, Affairs to Remember is Atlanta's Greenest Caterer!

Through Legacy Giving, ATR donates and provides sponsorship of in-kind services to non-profit organizations, assisting in their service and fundraising. Since the program launched in late 2008, ATR donated a generous portion of revenue to Legacy charities. To date, charitable giving and sponsorships exceeds $2,000,000. When they choose ATR, clients fund the ATR Legacy Giving program. What an innovative way to give back to the community!

At the core of ATR's sustainability platform is taking care of their employees. Every work day, employees are treated to a delicious, nutritious meal. Wages are well above standard industry rates. ATR is awarded with long-term, dedicated employees, many boasting decades of loyal service. 

Sustainable operating practices make good, solid business for ATR. Beyond overall cost-savings, ATR attributes over $300,000 in revenue directly to clients choosing a caterer who "walks the green talk" front and back-of-the-house. 

In the November 2014 press release, ATR launched The Green Files with the following copy: ATR invites you to follow the raucous adventures of super-duper Special Agents Patrick Cuccaro and William Neal as they explore all things Green and sustainable chronicled on the company's new blog, The Green Files. But they warn, "Not everything about Green is black and white."

Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore gives her ATR | The Green Files kudos:

"The initial success of Zero Waste Zones was largely creditable to pioneers like Patrick Cuccaro, Managing Director at Affairs to Remember Caterers…and who knew he was a Special Agent?! The right role models, and role models who back up their commitment with action, are key to any initiative. Patrick and the staff at Affairs to Remember have demonstrated a commitment that ensures Atlanta is well represented as a city dedicated to sustainability."

Integral to industry leadership is the commitment to share experiences, lessons learned and otherwise assist colleagues as they embark upon the sustainability journey. Patrick and the ATR staff share their sustainable operating practices within the industry via an open door policy. In the early ZWZ days, ATR invited competitors to their back-of-the-house to show how easily food waste collection for compost flows into daily kitchen practices.

Sustainability is one of many facets within ATR's commitment to excellence. As one of the largest privately held, full-service luxury catering companies in the United States, ATR is the recipient of a multitude of local and national awards | honors. In 2013 ATR received a highly coveted Achievement in Catering Excellence Awards (ACE Award) for "Best Caterer in the South." A highly prestigious honor—only four caterers in the United States and one international caterer are recognized each year at the annual CaterSource Conference.

ATR Dames
photo courtesy of Travis S. Taylor
ATR has the unmatched distinction of four Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) members, including Senior Catering Consultant Nancy Lutz, Senior Catering Consultant Kristy Cook, Executive Sous Chef Ashley Mitchell and Director of First Impressions and LDEI Atlanta Chapter Past President Shelley Pedersen. LDEI is a worldwide society of women dedicated to creating a culture in the community that fosters excellence and promotes the achievement of women in culinary professions through educational and charitable activities. Membership is by invitation only and through a rigorous application process.

Serving through leadership roles is another ATR industry contribution. After several years on the Executive Committee, Patrick was elected GRA Chair for the 2012 term. Later in 2012, Patrick was appointed to the Yelp Small Business Advisory Council (YSBAC), an international 19-member team comprised of business owners from the United States, Canada, and Europe. The Council’s task is to provide input on existing Yelp features and policies, products under development, and brainstorm new ideas with regard to interacting with local businesses.

The strong Ei | ATR bond spans decades grounded in Holly's fifteen-year tenure as Executive Catering & Events' owner and Patrick's role as the Off-Premises Catering Coalition Founder. While working at the GRA | GFA Holly recruited ATR to join with Patrick chairing the GRA Off-Premises Catering Roundtable. As the ZWZ Founder & Director, Holly worked closely with the ATR Team building the successful program. In 2010 Ei was formed as the new ZWZ home and Patrick was instrumental to a graceful transition.

The Trees Atlanta Team w/
Ei's planted tree
While at the podium accepting the City of Atlanta ATR Day Proclamation, Richard spoke of the long-term Ei | ATR relationship and the supporting role Ei played in their recycling and food waste success. It was a touching affirmation of Ei's important work.

For Ei's five-year anniversary, ATR planted a six-foot Shrangri-La Ginkgo tree honoring Ei in the Virginia - Highlands neighborhood. Travis and Holly attended the Trees Atlanta planting on a cold late February Saturday morning. During the tree planting, the combined ZWA & The IMPACT Blogs topped the coveted 250,000 pageviews milestone - a lovely nod from the Heavens for ATR's generous, long-lasting and nurturing gift.

The Ei FB album, Affairs to Remember plants tree in Ei's honor, is a pictorial recap of the tree planting.

In June Ei orchestrated an introductory lunch meeting for the ATR Team and in-coming City of Atlanta Director of Sustainability Stephanie Benfield. ATR Architect of Events, Innovation & Development William Neal joined Patrick and Travis at the lunch; Moniqua Williams with City of Atlanta Office of Sustainability joined Stephanie. 

During lunch conversation, Holly often interjected to include additional details on the ATR outstanding sustainability commitment. Stephanie was thrilled to meet the ATR Team and hear Patrick's affirmation of support for her City sustainability policies, programs and endeavors. Patrick voiced accolades for Stephanie with the following comment: 
The ATR | City of Atlanta
lunch attendees
“When Mayor Reed first created his Office of Sustainability several years ago, the message was clear: Atlanta will be a world leader in all things green. Recently he appointed Stephanie Stuckey Benfield to lead the charge. Clear the runway – watch Atlanta soar!”
It was an empowering, fun and AMAZING lunch!

The journey began with a "delicious divorce from landfills" and propelled ATR into a national sustainability leader recognized for impressive achievements. ... and the BEST part: the journey is gaining momentum as Affairs to Remember Caterers refines recycling practices and embarks on new sustainability adventures!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Elemental Impact: a business approach to sustainability

In conjunction with the Fourth Annual National Zero Waste Conference - The Stars of Zero Waste -  hosted in Los Angeles, ecotopiaU media interviewed a series of the Zero Waste Stars presenting at the conference. For an overview of the excellent U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) conference, visit the ZWA Blog article, Business NOT as Usual: fine-tuning the zero waste journey.

Holly @ USZWBC Conference
Photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka
Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore was included in the interview series hosted by Michelle McGinnis of ecotopiaU media. USZWBC Business Advisory Council Member Tom Wright of Sustainable Bizness Practices co-hosted the interviews with Michelle. In her thirteen-minute filmed interview, Holly covered Ei's zero waste origins, major strides at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and current initiatives within the Ei Recycling Refinement platform.

When asked about her background, Holly emphasized her strong business acumen was grounded in early career years as an Arthur Andersen auditor, followed by Controller, Southeast Region for Trammell Crow Company

A national non-profit, Ei maintains a business focus when developing new programs. Whether improving the bottom-line, meeting customer demands, serving as media | public relation opportunities or increasing employee morale, Ei initiatives make good, solid business sense.

In 2009 the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) were launched in response to Atlanta losing a convention as the client perceived another city "greener." Thus, the ZWZ were grounded in strengthening Atlanta's economic vitality. Via the ZWZ, Atlanta took a leadership role as THE forerunner in the commercial collection of food waste for compost.

When the National Restaurant Association purchased the ZWZ in late 2012, Ei shifted focus from zero waste to Recycling Refinement (RR), moving beyond landfill diversion. Recycling Integrity - maintaining maximum material value, minimal energy expended - is the premise for RR initiatives.

Sign @ SFCI Vendor Fair
for ATL concessionaires
While the ZWZ focused on "easy wins" via back-of-the-house food waste collection for compost, the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) moved into challenging front-of-the-house collection. With perfect timing, the SFCI - ATL Pilot launched in unison with the 2011 new airport concessionaire contract RFP - request for proposal. 

As documented in the ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport Makes a Bold Sustainable Statement, ATL Director of Asset Management & Sustainability Michael Cheyne spearheaded the following concessionaire contract provision:
“Concessionaire shall use compostable serviceware along with consumer facing packaging and source separate all food service wastes for direct transport to off airport composting facilities.”
The ATL contract provision has far-reaching implications and set new industry standards. Of the thirteen-minute interview, almost five minutes was dedicated to the ATL contract provision.

In the interview, Holly emphasized Ei supports contract provisions that require the teamwork necessary for zero waste success. At the conference Holly moderated the Zero Waste at Multi-Tenant Faculties panel. Ei General Council Greg Chafee of Thompson Hine closed the powerful panel with his Contract Provisions: A New Zero Waste Resource presentation.

The ZWA Blog article, Contract provisions require teamwork necessary for zero waste success, announces Ei's foray into educating on contract provisions with Greg taking the leadership role.

first SSMRT aluminum
bale at GWCC
Within the closing minutes, Holly gave an overview of the Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template (SSMRT) where Atlanta serves as the pilot city; the Georgia World Congress Center Authority - the GWCC (nation's fourth largest convention center), Georgia Dome (home of the Atlanta Falcons) and 20-acre Centennial Olympic Park - is the Lead Pioneer. 

Although national in scope, Ei often creates templates in Atlanta designed for replication across the country. Atlanta was a bright sustainability star during the interview.

In addition to Holly, the Michelle & Tom dynamic co-host duo interviewed Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute President Bridgett Luther, USZWBC Board Member Gary Liss of Gary Liss & Associates, Eco-Cycle International Executive Director Eric Lombardi, University of Colorado Boulder Development Director, Recycling Jack DeBell and Elvis Nolasco of ABC's American Crime.

Ei initiatives - the Zero Waste Zones, Sustainable Food Court Initiative and the Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template - use a business approach to sustainability. Success is inevitable as Zero Waste Makes Good Business Sense!

To watch the interview, visit the ecotopiaU media Holly Elmore Interview @ USZWBC link.