How Much Cash Are You Throwing In The Trash?

By Benjamin Lephilibert Founder, LightBlue Environmental Consulting | May 13, 2018

Imagine the following scenario. You're at a conference for hotel executives and the speaker asks you to take out your phone and perform a calculation based on the average number of monthly covers served on your property. He tells you to take that number and multiply it by twelve, divide it by three, and then multiply by five. He then asks you to raise your hand if your answer is greater than 200,000. (Every hand goes up.) He then says to keep your hand up if the number is above 500,000. (Many hands go down, but a solid contingent of raised hands remains.)

He then explains what they've done. "I just asked you to take your monthly covers and multiply that by twelve to get an annual figure. You divided it by three to get to an estimate of the total kilograms of wasted food, and then you multiplied that figure by five to estimate a dollar figure for your property's annual food waste. Now, please put your hand back up if you think the figure you calculated is a realistic estimate of your food waste. (Zero hands go up.) Okay. Please raise your hand if you think your food waste is less than ¼ of the figure. (Most of the people in the room raise their hand.)"

This scenario has played out with similar results across boardrooms and banquet centers. Given the chance to calculate a rough estimate of their waste, hotel executives reflexively deny the possibility that their food waste could be so significant or that they could even be performing anywhere near the average. (Even though they've typically made no effort to compete on this front.) In doing so, these leaders tend to miss the mark by an order of magnitude. So, when they think it's one to two hundred kilograms per day, we've learned to expect the measured amount to be around a thousand.

When we actually go in to measure it and share the results, they still tend not to believe it. Then we show them the waste and the conversation changes as they begin to understand and accept the problem. (It's hard to ignore a day's worth of food waste when it's piled up in front of you.) Once you get to that point, building commitment for change is easier, as the problem that was hidden in plain sight can no longer be ignored. But working to gain the support necessary for success doesn't end there, and why is it so hard to get to that point?

Food waste is often seen as either nonexistent (that's where the conversation typically starts), or as a necessary evil (that's where it often shifts to once it's been proven to exist). But neither of these are ever the full story. Properties that take food waste seriously know that it occurs, and even when they're doing a good job of avoiding and diverting it, they know there are always ways in which they can improve. While at the other end of the spectrum, it sometimes seems there's a bit of a Dunning-Kruger Effect in play, wherein those who haven't really jumped into this work believe they've already mastered it.

There are two key questions we find ourselves going back to around the problem of food waste: 

Source: Skeptical Science
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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.