For the third consecutive year, the Oregon Convention Center has collaborated with the Food Services of America to make its annual FSA Trends Show a stellar example of sustainable practices and philanthropy.
Once again, FSA’s goal for its an annual showcase – which gives FSA food vendors the chance to share some of next year’s culinary trends – was to increase efforts towards zero waste and reduce the amount going into landfills.
In 2011, with help from OCC staff, the FSA achieved a diversion rate of 82 percent for the Trends Show. In 2012, that number improved to 83 percent. This year’s show, held on Oct. 22 at the convention center and featuring roughly 150 exhibitors, reached a new plateau: an 86 percent diversion rate.
The 86 percent figure includes 2,080 pounds of pre-consumer food donated to the Oregon Food Bank, enough to provide 1,600 meals to the needy.
OCC sustainability coordinator Erin Rowland says an 86 percent diversion rate is a rare occurrence.
“We have about five food events a year, and while we don’t do this level of tracking for other shows, we can say it is rare to have that kind of commitment,” Rowland says. “This is about the FSA and OCC working together to be forward thinking and wanting to improve on the past.”
Owned and operated by Metro, the OCC has made sustainability and waste diversion one of its core values over the past decade. In 2011, it approached the FSA, one of the largest food distributors in the country, about rethinking its sustainability goals for the Trends Show, then in its second year, and working towards zero waste.
“It scared me,” says Pamela Lewis, a marketing programs and events manager at the FSA. “I didn’t know how we could do that with a food show of this size because the opportunity for waste is huge.”
She adds, “Back in the day, before food waste was an issue that we paid attention to, everyone was throwing food out, even perfectly good food. One thing I learned, eventually, was that here in the United States, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl every day of the year. That stadium fills 95,000 people.”
Lewis credits FSA’s vendors, customers and sales associates for making zero waste a collective goal.
That “buy-in” is important because the OCC and FSA can’t force vendors and exhibitors to participate in diversion initiatives. But they can encourage them, in part by making sustainability practices accessible and easy to understand. Lewis says the OCC sustainability staff has been instrumental in that regard, especially this year.
OCC sustainability program assistant Lindsey Newkirk says this year’s effort improved upon 2012 by making several changes.
“We offered a training session for exhibitors for the first time,” says Newkirk. “We handed out flyers beforehand as we usually do. But since we aren’t sure people read them, we added a 10-minute training session where we went over goals, expectations, and reviewed what goes where, and how food donations work.”
Another improvement was the FSA’s decision to take away those omnipresent trash cans placed at each exhibitor’s booth.
In the past, too many trash cans allowed exhibitors and others the convenience of simply throwing away materials that could otherwise have been recycled, composted or donated. This year, visitors and exhibitors had to walk to centralized sustainability stations where materials had to be properly disposed.
About 15 OCC staff and volunteers also were asked to monitor stations and generally oversee the day-long event, engaging visitors and exhibitors and helping them with friendly dos and don’ts of recycling and composting. In previous years, non-OCC staff was hired to service the event.
This expert knowledge was particularly helpful during the 2013 event’s break-down period. Tired and busy exhibitors, in a rush to end the day, might have thrown materials away. But this year, OCC staff and volunteers were on hand during that frantic closing period to ensure that more materials were properly disposed or donated to the Oregon Food Bank.
Rowland and Newkirk believe this year’s event might serve as a template for future similar food events at the OCC. For its part, the FSA, as a company, has embraced sustainability initiatives because of its involvement with the OCC, Lewis says.
“If someone has a passion for zero waste effort, it matters,” Lewis says.
OCC Sustainability Coordinator