Engaging organisers, catering partners and staff brought encouraging results only four months after launching successful all-round campaign.
Recognising one of the biggest sustainability challenges with over 1/3 of all food produced going to waste according to the UN, Olympia London decided to extend its efforts to tackle the issue.
An event industry sustainability leader, Olympia London has sent zero waste to landfill for well over a decade by recycling more than 98% and converting the rest into fuel. However, the London landmark spotted opportunities to further reduce surplus with the ambition to completely eradicate food waste from the menu.
To help with this goal, Olympia London partnered with WRAP in the national campaign ‘Guardians of Grub’. This meant tracking food waste onsite by measuring spoilage, preparation, inedible and plate waste.
To ensure the campaign was a success, the venue invested time educating all involved stakeholders, as explains Catering Manager, Abbey Short: “We had to educate ourselves, our caterers, organisers, exhibitors and visitors. For this, we created touch points inspired by WRAP’s resources and provided information to inform and encourage all participants.”
Engaging catering partners, the venue provided training on monitoring and measuring food waste, in addition to resources to enable them to focus on the task.
Employees were encouraged to measure their own food waste and given helpful tips on portion control, using a single ingredient to create multiple dishes, smarter grocery shopping and reutilising leftovers and trimmings; all shared via Olympia London’s internal communications channels.
Working with event organisers
Motivating event organisers and getting them involved before the shows was crucial to implement the campaign. Working with each participant organiser, the venue also compared previous events’ statistics to map target areas and create a tailored solution whenever possible.
At Decorex, for example, Olympia London organised a tailored pop up restaurant – The Garden. Its carefully designed menu offered a majority of plant-based dishes (which typically have longer shelf lives), with the option to add animal protein if desired.
Over 50% of the dishes were categorised as zero waste as they left no trace onsite. These included skinned and boned chicken and produce that would have otherwise been disregarded such as wonky vegetables – all locally sourced.
Finally, careful portioning and staff training brought plate waste down to virtually zero, except for the typical bread or bun crusts.
Olympia London worked with IBM to ensure its corporate event, catering for 2,500 delegates, produced zero food waste. Splitting the event into four catering sections enabled the team to closely monitor the number of portions served in each area. Managing stock levels as service progressed resulted in no food left at the end of service.
The venue planned measures to avoid inevitable event surplus going to waste. Partnering with Speciality & Fine Food Fair, for example, Olympia London distributed over 6,000 meals in the local community. This was possible thanks to an ongoing relationship with City Harvest, which collects surplus food and share with those who need the most.
Engaging catering partners
Inspired by the campaign, Olympia London’s catering partners have embraced the cause.
Levy UK is now utilising edible food trimmings to produce and distribute over 50 gallons of soup in the local community each month. The caterer has also reduced preparation waste by 93% thanks to switching sourcing to pre-prepared produce and maximising the use of raw products in its menus. In addition, refreshed staff training helped to reduce buffet waste by 10% per cover.
Crussh also has since reviewed its sandwiches’ sourcing, reducing event waste (leftover food after each show) and preparation waste by 40%. Focusing on better portioning and enhanced customers feedback, Creative has since curbed plate waste by 7%.
Motivated by encouraging results, such as reducing food waste on a single event from 6.5 tonnes to under 100kg year-on-year, Olympia London is now targeting key shows and looking at recurring ‘offender’ items that appear on plate waste, such as salad garnish, chips and even the way we cut lemons for fish and chips.
The venue is currently investigating ways to repurpose fruit pulp from the juicing process such as dehydrating and turning it into granola and engaging with sharing app ‘Too Good To Go’ to promote unsold items.
Catering partner Levy UK has committed to reducing food surplus by 20% over the next 12 months, while FCB pledged to reduce it by 2% by March 2020. Both caterers are rolling out these initiatives across all of their retail sites.
As for the venue itself, having reported 43 tonnes of food waste collected in 2018, implementing the initiative in September 2019 has had an incredible effect: Olympia London has now reduced its total by 17% with 35.5 tonnes reported in 2019.
The venue’s commitment to eradicate food waste continues: “We will not give up. Each area of our business is different so we have to adapt the way we measure to suit each operation, ensuring we capture all stats. We will continue to engage with our customers, visitors and colleagues to understand behaviours around food waste, and work collaboratively until we can say ‘we are a zero-food waste venue’ in addition to zero to landfill.”