Sustainability of Food and Beverage at the In-Person Conference
For all of the people who work on big events like CHI, this is known as “F&B for the show”. There are lots of times when we serve food to people at the in-person CHI conference. Breaks, receptions, lunches, to support some of the people working the conference, etc. What might seem straightforward can actually be complex, especially when we make decisions informed by our equity and justice goals. In particular, our Sustainability Chairs worked with Executive Events and the Convention Center to try and make our F&B as ecologically sustainable as we could.
To lower the embodied carbon of the conference’s food, we tried to source food locally and shift to a plant-based diet. This policy tries to avoid carbon-intensive foods by selecting those with lower food miles (emissions generated through food transportation paths along the supply chain) and by avoiding meats, which are considered to have larger emissions generated through production and processing.
CHI F&B Sustainability Efforts:
- We worked with the New Orleans Convention Center to ensure all serving materials (utensils, cups, lids, bowls, plates, napkins, etc.) are compostable.
- All pre-packaged items are local and/or recyclable/ compostable
- For coffee breaks and breakfasts, we removed all individual creamers/milks and replaced them with large cartons of milk, and dairy alternative options.
- Removed individual juice bottles and replaced them with pitchers of juice, to reduce waste
- Working with the venue on their food waste program to ensure all untouched or unused food is donated to local organizations.
- Source local products for the majority of our food items and tried, within budget to source all local meat and seafood products
- We reduced the total amount of meat served and we prioritized locally sourced products for meat and seafood items. With the exception of some small specialty products that are not major portions of the meal
- Ordered primarily vegetarian options and decreased the amount of meat at the main food functions (more than any CHI Conference in the past😊)
Other F&B Efforts:
- Created menus that accommodated all dietary restrictions or special dietary needs, including halal, kosher, vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free, nut free.
- All food functions have a vegan/vegetarian option
- Added (for the first time at CHI) multiple reception food stations that are 100% vegan.
- Reached out to anyone who marked halal in their registration, to see if they would like a certified halal meal at the end of the session’s day, during the days of Ramadan (Sat, Sun, Mon) since they overlap with CHI and we wanted to make sure we were accommodating anyone who was observing the holiday and fasting.
- Offered specialty meals to anyone who reached out with concerns of a severe allergy or dietary need.
- Budget! This year we had a reduced F&B budget overall. We had to find ways to cut corners where we could.
- Part of our budget challenge is that compostable/recyclable serving materials come at a higher price point. We need to find ways to accommodate that budget.
- Changing and customizing food items that are not on the regular/standard convention center menus can come at an increased cost. i.e adding or replacing an item from a buffet can increase the buffet costs from $23/person to ~$30/person. Customizing menus outside of what the convention center incurs costs to the menu items
- Adding and sourcing out custom menu items means bringing in items that may not be local and can increase the carbon footprint.
- For example, we have some functions with Zapps chips, a very local and popular snack item in New Orleans, but the packaging is not recyclable. If we were to source out a chip/snack item with recyclable packaging, we would have to order it from outside New Orleans, most likely from a large domestic vendor, who would have to ship/fly/ truck the items to the venue, again greatly increasing the carbon footprint.
There is still some progress we can make to continue to reduce the way our consumption affects the environment. For instance, we could move to an all-vegetarian conference. This year we worked hard to make our F&B ordering match our sustainability goals, and we hope you enjoy the experience.