Food Industry Puts Green Initiatives on the Menu

Food Industry Puts Green Initiatives on the Menu

A newly formed nonprofit wants to reduce the food industry's ecological footprint by creating a network for companies to share best practices. Meanwhile, a Florida-based restaurant chain vowed to pursue organic food handler certification for every location.

A University of Oregon research initiative has led to the creation of the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association. The membership-driven group wants to measure and reduce impacts including energy, distribution, climate change and waste.

"We want to transition to a sustainable food system that uses the least amount of resources, and does so in a good, clean, fair and healthy way," said Executive Director Natalie Reitman-White.

The group was formed in May and recently launched in its bid to attract 50 members in its first year. Membership is geared toward organic growers, distributors, processors, retailers and certifiers. Eighteen companies have already signed on, agreeing to network and conduct self-audits every year. They will receive a toolkit with recommended metrics to gauge and report progress based on frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative and Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The 11 areas include organic, distribution, energy, climate change, water, waste, packaging, labor, animal care, consumer education and governance.

"The whole idea is to boil down this huge concept of sustainability into the particular things within the food industry we know we need to tackle," Reitman-White said.

Food distribution represents one of the industry's greatest challenges. "We may have these great organic products but how are we distributing them?" Reitman-White said.

Packaging represents another. "We have all these organic and natural food products but we frequently have to package them to reach the consumer," Reitman-White said.

In other news, Florida-based Pizza Fusion said Tuesday its Fort Lauderdale restaurant is the fourth in the country to meet organic food handler standards set by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The company plans to seek the certification for all locations.

The two-year old restaurant chain has made environmental stewardship one of its core values. Every restaurant is built to meet LEED standards, buys renewable energy certificates and has its pizzas delivered in hybrid vehicles. Organic ingredients top the pizzas and the company gives customers discounts for bringing pizza boxes back for recycling.

It costs about $2,500 for each restaurant to meet the standards for the organic food handler certification, said Eric Haley, vice president of communications. There are currently seven Pizza Fusion restaurants in the U.S., with plans for an additional 10 units in operation by the end of the year. Seventy-five franchises have been sold in 15 states.