All the good intentions in the world don't amount to a hill of beans if a company doesn't directly control operations at the majority of its sites or have centralized purchasing because of the nature of its business. This is the situation Sodexo faced when it decided to start tracking, and eventually improving, its sustainability efforts. Now that it's started, some progress has been made and a recipe for success on all fronts is being written.
In its inaugural sustainability report, released today, Sodexo provides an outline of its 14 primary sustainability goals, which were introduced as part of its "Better Tomorrow Plan," launched in October 2009. The report then takes stock of its operations between September 2009 and August 2010, helping establish a baseline for future reports. Just doing that is a big step forward for a company in Sodexo's sector, said Rachel Sylvan, director of engagement in Sodexo's Office of Sustainability. "It's ground breaking for a company in our industry to measure what we're doing," she said.
At this point, many companies offer detailed CSR reports that spell out specific targets for, at a minimum, waste reduction, energy and water use. But most large companies that do so, such as Nike and Walmart, have a lot of control over at least one end of their supply chain and a lot of influence over their suppliers because of their size. Sodexo, although large, often purchases in the communities in which it operates, which diffuses its influence on suppliers and often does not control operations at its client locations, further reducing the control Sodexo has, according to Sylvan.
"Manufacturing companies have a very different kind of control over their impacts," Sylvan said.
During the first year of the Better Tomorrow Plan, Sodexo measured energy and water use at its corporate operations and incorporated data on site-level impacts at 2,642 sites in North America. That is a small fraction of the company's operations, which span 80 countries and 34,000 sites. "Everything is a shared decision with our clients," Sylvan said. "We're working with the leadership in all our markets to set goals in all our markets."
Even in its first report, Sodexo points to some improvements. From 2009 to 2010, its purchases of fair and responsibly traded coffee increased to 14 percent (up from 8 percent) in the U.S. and to 49 percent (up from 47 percent) in Canada. Also, its contracted purchases of certified sustainable seafood increased to 43 percent, from 31 percent, and more than 1,000 of its sites are using re-usable cutlery as the default choice. Finally, 17 percent of the produce Sodexo buys from distributors comes from the state or region in which it's used, while 15 percent comes from within a 250-mile radius.
Within the next two years Sodexo plans to roll out a software system to allow managers of all its sites to report on operations and improvements. In the same timeframe, the company also plans to specify energy, carbon, waste and water goals for both corporate operations and client sites, according to Sylvan.
Sodexo isn't the only food service company trying to get a handle on its operations. Sysco, another provider, earlier this week agreed to include water risk management and sustainable agriculture in its sustainability initiative in order to head off a shareholder resolution proposed by the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS), according to reports. Under the agreement, Sysco will provide CalSTRS with updates on the progress of the initiative and report to CDP Water Disclosure.
This is the fourth of five environmentally related shareholder resolutions submitted by CalSTRS this year to be withdrawn after companies agreed to improve climate-risk disclosures. A fifth, filed with ConocoPhillips, was related to its oil sands operations. It gained support from 30 percent of shareholders.