Delivering sustainable catering at scale with Aramark

Catering 8 min read

How Aramark is making meaningful ESG progress across their entire portfolio

As one of the UK’s leading food service partners, Aramark serves over 515,000 meals across the UK each day.

For this blog in our Food Waste Action Week series, we caught up with Gina Camfield, ESG Manager, and James Canning, Operations Director at Aramark, about their vision for the future, and how they’re bringing that to life through a robust, scalable sustainability strategy across their sites.

In the interview, we cover everything from food waste to worm farms, carbon labelling and consumer behaviour change – read on to learn more! 

Weaving sustainability and wellbeing throughout the business

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about Aramark and how you approach sustainability?

James: “Aramark is a global entity, operating in the UK across a number of different sectors, from defense sites to corporate offices, schools and stadiums. 

As an organisation with such scale, we take sustainability very seriously. And what’s great is that although we’re a big operation, we’re able to offer different, tailored solutions for different parts of the business. We do that by looking at the clients’ needs and taking into account the local environment and community. ”

Gina: “And because we’ve got such a broad client portfolio, we need a robust way to keep track of all the ESG and sustainability initiatives we’re running, and the impact we’re having.

We’ve got a platform dedicated to helping us do that, called Be Well, Do Well. That outlines all of our ESG commitments, and there’s eight pillars in total – with four initiatives falling under people and another four under planet. 

That  encompasses everything from:

  • Working towards a more sustainable supply chain
  • Empowering the wellbeing of people
  • Supporting local communities
  • Minimising waste 

The eight pillars all align with the UN development goals and science-based targets as well, with the aim of achieving Net Zero across the value chain by 2050.

How are you measuring your various sustainability initiatives, and how do you report back on progress to the businesses you work with? 

Gina: “It’s a big job! There’s a lot to report on. And we keep opening doors and finding even more that we can report on. 

We’ve got so many amazing centralised initiatives feeding into our Be Well Do Well  programme, which we report on. But then each client is different and has different goals. One example of something that pretty much always needs to be tailored is the impact we’re having on local communities, because that’s different for every site.

We do try to collect as much data as we can, and every year we release a Net Zero report, and an annual Be Well Do Well progress report. We do share some of our stories and the  work we’re doing on social media and Linkedin, too.”

From food waste to worm farms: Tailoring sustainability to the needs of each site

You’ve said every client is different. Could you give us an example of something bespoke you’ve worked on for a client that’s had a great result?

James: “With one client I look after, we wanted to tackle production food waste, and find a way to repurpose that in the landscaping we were doing with a subcontractor. We came up with the idea of using worms to compost the production waste.

It’s been so successful that we’ve now expanded it across two units, hosting between 60,000 and 80,000 worms each in these big containers. And they completely digest all of our production waste generated through our food outlets.

What’s brilliant about the worms is that they produce “liquid gold” once the food has been digested – which is amazing for soil. So Wayne, who looks after the worms, comes to feed them every few weeks and drains off this liquid, which then goes back into our landscaping for this site. 

Not only does that eradicate any production food waste, but as it’s being used to maintain the gardens. It links really nicely into our “Take 15” mental health initiative and other wellbeing initiatives we’re running with this client. As part of that, employees are encouraged to take time out for themselves in this  beautiful garden. So it’s a full 360 degrees approach to getting the most out of the food we produce, and any subsequent waste. 

Are there any sustainability initiatives that you’re particularly proud of?

Gina: “We’ve been nominated for a few awards recently which we’re really proud of – one for a  Ministry of Defense contract, in the food waste initiative space. But one of the key successes for us as a business has been a carbon labelling strategy we launched in 2023, as well as some recipe engineering with our culinary teams, to drive down the carbon impact of our menus.

 This communicates the carbon impact of food choices  – via a rating system pf A-E – that employees are making at Aramark’s client sites.

We’ve found that food labelling is really powerful, and the platform also allows us to collate sales data, and track a trend on the sales of our dishes. That way, we can see if the reduction in carbon in a dish results in positive behaviour changes, and report back on that. 

Bringing employees along on the journey to Net Zero

How are you getting your employees onboard with all the impressive work you’re doing?

Gina: “So we have networks throughout the business that help us communicate updates. 

I think the important thing is that, while we have centralised initiatives, everything else forms part of a sustainability toolbox for them to dive into. We try to empower teams to find the one that works for them, as every client is different.

And sustainability and wellbeing is weaved throughout the business – it’s not its own standalone programme. You’ll see it everywhere from culinary teams to our marketing department. It’s everyone’s responsibility, and part of our DNA. 

Our Planet Ambassadors programme is launching at the beginning of April, which is another way that we’re encouraging employees to get involved with what we’re doing. We had amazing uptake – 120 people applied to get involved on the first day.” 

Are there any community initiatives you run at Aramark? 

Gina: “ABC day is a volunteering day we run each year across Aramark and the businesses we work with. Employees take one day to volunteer at a volunteer centre, and last year I think we did about 10,000 hours of giving back to local communities just through this initiative. 

James: “Aramark building community day is an amazing opportunity for us to support our local communities.  We have workforces that live locally to the sites they’re employed at, so they particularly love that we can spearhead programmes that directly benefit their community. It’s very rewarding for everyone involved.”

Working with Olio to feed local people and reduce wastage

Why did Aramark decide to bring Olio on at its sites?

James:  Whilst we have processes that help reduce end-of-day waste, we just didn’t have the means to redistribute end-of-day short shelf-life products. It was a bit of a gap in the business proposition. Olio – and your volunteers – is such a great solution for that.  

And the feedback that I’ve had from General Managers and Operations roles is that the flexibility of volunteers is second-to-none. Volunteers can be onsite within the hour once we’ve let you know there’s food to collect. 

 I’ve also heard that your volunteers are always nice to deal with, and are respectful when they’re onsite, which is important for us and our clients.” 

Gina: “The reporting that Olio provides is really insightful, too – it’s great to be able to feed that impact back to clients and what the food we’re saving equates to in terms of carbon, trees, and car miles for example. There’s enough granularity there to highlight the areas where they’re making a difference, and where there’s room to make more improvement.”

Is there anything that’s exceeded your expectations in working with Olio?

James: “All of the feedback I’ve had on Olio has been nothing but positive. Particularly around your volunteers, who are so great to deal with.

Gina:  “And I’d extend that to your Account Management team, too. They’re always really accommodating with any requests we have, and quick to get back to any questions. We feel well looked after.”

James: “There are other huge benefits. We had a programme of waste disposal that was fit for purpose, but with a small window of opportunity to do something better. And Olio allows us to do things that little bit better. So to other businesses looking at working with Olio –  I’d say don’t hesitate to start up that relationship.”