I was reading the March 5 Washington Post, and on the front page the headline read “Stick a fork in Hill’s ‘green’ cutlery.” Without going into the politics of the story and the fact that it is about the food and beverage function in the Capitol Building, the story is symptomatic of what I often hear when we dig into the details of green: it costs more, at least on the surface. The report states the move to compostable cutlery was found to be extremely costly and resulted in excess usage because the selected materials frankly could not stand up to heat, warping in soups and making it impossible to cut through even basic food. Staffers were taking several sets just to get through their lunch.
Two days later, I read through one of the online newsletters an article entitled “Benefits of Biodegradable Disposable Dishware” touting seven undeniable environmental benefits of these materials, but leaving out the facts of cost. Goodwill is critical, but in an industry that is still emerging from the recession, most owners do not want profits composted. Reducing pure trash pickup costs is often not enough to pay for the 10 % to 30% biodegradable product cost increase. Yes, these are long-term ideals held up by short-term realities. Just ask Congress.
In the Marriott test kitchen, we use corn- or potato-starch-based cutlery for informal taste panels as part of our constant R&D work. I love the idea, but hate eating with them. Don’t leave the spoon in hot sauce or soup — your spoon becomes a knife. (This is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.) We send waste food for composting, recycle and have reduced our pure waste to a quarter of what it was 10 years ago. We are planting a garden. Hotels that have access to a composting network separate food waste for compost, and everyone recycles, provided there is a company available to pick up compostables and recyclables. The infrastructure will eventually be built, as “green” is not a fad or an issue that will go away. The way out of this quandary and to get to cost neutrality is to focus on what we can do now.
For the infrastructure issue, seek and support those local companies trying to make ends meet composting and recycling.
For the functionality issue, continually put pressure on product designers to come up with more acceptable products that increase guest perception of quality and environmental soundness.
For PR, thoughtfully and thoroughly engage in comprehensive approaches that are measurable and realistic.
For business growth, align eco-policies with those of our customers, creating the business case and exceptional environmental footprints and leaving no question as to why they should bring their valuable business to us.
Finally, for the cost implications, ensure positive ROI of green by measuring all inputs/outputs to break even at least, and achieve savings at best.