29th Jul 2021

Why should companies in London embrace sustainable food practices?

Introduction

Let’s get one thing straight. Embracing sustainable food practices is a social responsibility that lands on the shoulders of every business, whether based in Southwark or the Shetland Islands. However, companies in London are in a unique situation.

‘Why’s that?’ you may ask.

London is a global city that is hugely influential around the world. In a 2021 poll of global institutional investors, 66% said that London was world-leading in tackling sustainability issues, amongst others. So when it comes to doing business sustainably, the world looks towards London.

Whether we like it or not, London’s future depends on the outcome of climate change.

London is open to a whole myriad of environmental threats. The London Plan 2021 describes how London must prepare for increased heatwaves, water shortages and floods. However, the plan also highlights the ambitious target to make London zero-carbon by 2050 to prevent future climate disasters.

It’s no secret that London already faces big problems when it comes to air pollution. London Air, a website run by Imperial College London, comments, “…the sheer size of the city, along with a dense road network and high buildings, means that central London tends to be one of the most polluted places in the UK”.

With London’s population set to increase by 70,000 people every year, the business community needs to pull out all the stops to ensure that the city continues to be an environment where people can thrive. Furthermore, we believe sustainable food practices need to be part of this plan to make London zero-carbon by 2050. This article explains why!

What are sustainable food practices?

Before we begin, let’s wrap our heads around what ‘sustainable food practices’ actually means. Food practices could be anything from how a tech company provides free lunches for their employees to how chocolatiers source their cocoa.

“Serious environmental problems related to food production and consumption include climate change, water pollution, water scarcity, soil degradation, eutrophication of water bodies, and loss of habitats and biodiversity. Food consumption is associated with the bulk of global water use and is responsible for the generation of approximately one-fifth of greenhouse-gas emissions.”

In short, sustainable food practices minimise environmental problems and avoids unnecessary food and energy waste. However, sustainable food practices are not static and need constant innovation to improve how food is sourced, prepared, delivered and served.

Our responsibility people and planet 

Companies in London have many responsibilities, whether it’s to their employees, their shareholders, their customers, or their community. It’s not easy juggling these responsibilities whilst remaining profitable and competitive. However, the hard truth is that the cost of the damages caused by climate change far exceeds any short term gains in profit.

The Swiss Re Institute warns that climate change could “wipe off up to 18% of GDP of the worldwide economy by 2050 if global temperatures rise by 3.2°C”. Corporations already produce a staggering amount of pollution on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s through their use of energy or chemicals. To protect the world (and the economy), companies need to strive for sustainable operations. Food sustainability is a great place to start making these improvements.

Making employees healthier

Working in London can be abrasive. Employees in London work longer hours than anywhere else in the UK and commute an average of 74 minutes a day (during pre-pandemic levels). Let’s not forget the London lunch rush, where queues of workers can extend onto the streets from supermarkets and cafes.

Bad lunchtime habits need to change. Before the pandemic hit, 1 in 3 people in the UK bought supermarket meal deals once or twice a week. But, unfortunately, these affordable lunch options are rubbish for the environment or people’s diets. Here’s why:

  • The Environment. Quick ‘grab and go’ meals from the high street are likely to include a whole load of single-use plastics, from the cutlery to the packaging. Yuck!

  • Nutrition. The problem is that the ‘combo’ deal means that people choose food and drink with more calories, saturated fats, sugar and salt than consumers often realise.

For companies not directly involved within the food and beverage industry, changing workplace mealtimes is a great way to incorporate sustainable food practices. In addition, employers can hit two birds with one stone by offering a quality sit-down catering service.

Not only do employers have greater control to ensure that their catering operations are sustainable, but they can also ensure that their employees can enjoy a nourishing meal away from their desks, without the stress of the lunchtime rush on the high street.

Reduce Waste

Food waste is a colossal problem. Shockingly, one-third of food produced for human consumption goes to waste. Unfortunately, the news doesn’t get any better; energy and packaging waste are also problematic by-products from food production. Without sustainable food practices, the carbon footprint and the amount of pollution start to add up quickly.

The report, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, comments on food production:

Contemporary food production and consumption cannot be regarded as sustainable and raises problems with its wide scope involving diverse actors. Moreover, in the face of demographic change and a growing global population, sustainability problems arising from food systems will likely become more serious in the future.”

Action is needed. Fortunately for London companies, plenty of organisations are ready to help reduce their wastage. For one, there’s WRAP – a not-for-profit company that is ready to assist companies in achieving less wasteful food practices. Other organisations worth checking out included Olio, The Planet Mark and Heart of the City.

There’s also Guardians of Grub, whose sole aim is to help businesses reduce their food waste. On their website, they comment, “Wasted food is costing our industry £3.2 billion a year, and 75% of the food wasted could have been eaten”, and their goal is to help their partners change that.

Don’t panic! The support is out there for businesses to reduce waste, transform their practices, and find more cost-effective solutions.

It helps strengthen the local community.

The argument that buying local is better for the planet, as set out by the report ‘Why buy local?’, is as followed,

“buying locally produced food you reduce the number of miles food must be transported between its production and consumption”

Sustainable food practices can empower local communities in and around London, making it an even more vibrant and thriving place for business. But how?

Using local produce puts money into what matters; local independent business owners and local farmers. Going local means money is invested into the local community, improving wages, goods and services, profits, and donations.

Sourcing local food might cost more than, let’s say, fruit transported in from the other side of the world. But there’s compelling evidence to suggest that eco-conscious consumers are willing to take that extra cost. The London Economic reports,

“Farm produce such as meat or eggs topped the list of things the nation would gladly pay over the odds for if it was sourced or manufactured locally, as well as clothing, cars and furniture.”

London businesses have everything to gain when they buy local produce; the consumer is happy, their surrounding community flourishes, and the city’s environment becomes a healthier place to be.

Creates a more positive brand

Actions, or in this case – business operations, speak louder than words. The way a company behaves is a true reflection of its values. Companies that don’t practice what they preach are in danger of wandering into the dreaded ‘PR disaster’ territory.

News spreads fast, whether it’s an accusation of greenwashing on Twitter or a damning article about unethical behaviour. So modern companies need to show an authentic commitment to sustainability to avoid being called out in a demanding and digitally connected world.

A study by Deloitte earlier this year uncovered that almost “a quarter of consumers bought more local produce, and nearly one in five reports an increase in buying seasonally”. In addition, consumers are more informed than ever about the importance of sustainable food in tackling climate change. Therefore, companies must now show that their food practices are responsible. That is – if they want to get through 2021 with a positive brand perception still intact.

Conclusion

Now, more than ever, London companies need to respect the environment in all that they do. However, it’s clear there’s still much room for improvements for making London eat more sustainably, with Olio reporting that “between 33-50% of all food produced globally is never eaten”.

There’s a lot to gain from taking positive action, most notably the goodwill of the business community, local (and national) government), employees and the consumer. As commented by the European Commission, London is “one of just a handful of truly global cities” in the world. London businesses play an influential role on the world stage, so it’s up to them to lead the way in sustainability. With great power comes great responsibility, and, if done right, with great tasting food that doesn’t hurt the planet.

Thanks for reading! At Fooditude, we believe it’s best to be upfront about our sustainable practices. If you’d like to find out about it, visit our sustainability page.

Published by Fooditude

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