Carolyn Ball - Director for Delivery of Net Zero, Compass Group UK & Ireland, tells London First how making changes to our diet can reduce our impact on the planet.
The enormity of change required across the global food system means it’s often helpful to focus on key, undeniable facts from which small but significant actions can happen. The menu is a brilliant vehicle for this.
Our diet is the single biggest thing any of us can do to reduce our impact on planet earth, making the menu Compass’ greatest ally for meaningful change. It’s also a highly visible, highly emotive focus for our clients’ employees and customers, who increasingly (and rightly) see food as a reflection of the organisations’ values; its climate literacy and its awareness of the interlinked crises of biodiversity loss, social justice, and global health.
As the largest global foodservices caterer in the world, our urgent responsibility to act also carries an enormous opportunity to influence wider societal decarbonisation. Successfully reaching climate net zero by 2030 will be an extraordinary achievement. But it will also be a hollow one if we don’t use the millions of meals we serve across every sector of society to inspire dietary shifts at scale, in partnership with our clients.
Our chefs know that food is responsible for 80% of Compass’ UKI footprint making their brief clear: to reformulate the 87,000+ recipes we develop for the 6000+ locations we operate in — successfully reducing the embodied carbon on the plate, before that plate even reaches the customer.
They have embraced this challenge to their great credit, with compelling results that have started to inspire colleagues not just in the UK and Ireland but across our 550,000-strong, global team and the many millions of people we cater for together. This is great but not surprising.
None of us want to rally around the drumbeat of a dystopian future, so a delicious, sustainable plate of food is a brilliant way to appeal and engage — as opposed to shame or preach.
This is critically important for two reasons:
- As a society, we have to get to a position where the sustainable plate becomes the appealing, affordable norm — not the compromised alternative.
- As a PLC, we have to get really good at selling low carbon meals within the boundaries of the bottom line. A sustainable menu that doesn’t sell is costly and wasteful — defeating its very purpose.
By harnessing chefs’ creativity to reformulate the menus, we are increasing the use of local, seasonal, and plant-based ingredients in pursuit of achieving a 25% switch from animal to plant-based proteins by 2025 and a 40% switch by 2030 across the UK&I business. Substituting beef for mushroom wellington across a large multi-site contract, serving vegan fish and chips using banana blossom for many a music fan, and reducing beef in patties by 50% enjoyed by rugby and football fans on match day, offer three examples.
Feedback has been brilliant, evidencing the commercial and environmental benefit that a brave, creative and committed approach can deliver. We don’t have all the answers. But as we continue to accelerate our practical learnings and actively seek out the academic rigour of experts and life cycle analysts working in this space, it’s impossible not to feel motivated by the measurable power of the menu, the genius of the chef and the steady rise in national consciousness — rewarding their consistent hard work in pursuit of rapid, deep decarbonisation. One meal at a time…