The Sustainable Office – Part 9: Food

Choosing a sustainable diet is not only one of the best ways to reduce your impact on the environment, but it can also substantially improve your health and quality of life. Encouraging your employees to eat green will reduce your organization’s impact on the environment, and just may give you a happier and more productive team. Here are some recommendations for reducing your impact through food.

1. Go organic

Providing your employees with organic food has many benefits. Substituting organic food for other food reduces your organization’s impact because organic farming, due to its emphasis on natural processes, uses natural pesticides and less water while enhancing soil quality and biodiversity. In many cases, organic produce is healthier than non-organic because fewer pesticides are used.

2. Go local/seasonal

Buying food that is produced locally reduces the emissions associated with transportation. Because it has to travel less distance, less time passes between harvesting and selling, so local food is typically fresher than other choices. Buying local also supports local farmers and the local economy, including schools.

Most fruits and vegetables are available to us year round because they are shipped from distant producers. Buying seasonal produce helps ensure that you are buying locally, thus reducing your impact.

3. Use less packaging

Consider providing items such as coffee and sugar in bulk to your employees rather than everyone using single-serving items that consume a lot of packaging. To get rid of even more packaging, encourage your employees to eat fresh food, like fruits and vegetables, that don’t require any packaging. Studies have shown that eating natural and fresh foods gives people more energy and better health.

4. Eat in

Restaurants consume a lot of energy and water, and driving to them consumes energy too. You have very little control over what types of food you are eating when you go to a restaurant (is it local, organic?). Encourage your employees to bring a lunch to work. Eating in saves both money and energy and is usually more healthy. Additionally, when employees eat their lunch at the office it gives them a chance to get to know each other better, which can increase employee loyalty and the feeling of camaraderie within the office.

5. Go vegetarian, or better yet, vegan

I know, I know, but please stop yelling. I like eating animals too, and in my experience the cuter the better. I have yet to try panda, which I can only assume is the tastiest of all meats (and maybe even sustainable because they survive on bamboo…). In any event, eating meat has its costs. To produce one pound of beef, 8 pounds of grain are required – grain that could be directly consumed by humans, thus feeding more people. Pork, poultry, dairy products and fish are more efficient in terms of feed conversion efficiency, but none are as efficient as eating straight grain. With fish it is important to ensure that you are eating fish that were harvested from a sustainable fishery. To help you with this, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has put out a seafood watch list.

The best way to reduce your impact through the food you eat is to eat food that gets its energy directly from the sun. When you eat food from lower trophic levels, you reduce the number of steps the energy in that food has taken between the sun and you, increasing the efficiency.