Over this year and the next, the university, in partnership with contractor ABM Pilkington Catering, will be “working towards meeting its aims” says Barry Palmer, head of catering and conference services. High on the agenda is to make customers at all the food outlets on campus aware of what the catering department is doing on sustainability and why.
Using only free-range eggs and fish from sustainable sources is a great thing, but convincing others to do the same is even better, and it’s inspiring to see that in this particular seat of learning even the catering department is doing its bit to inform and educate. The university’s food policy is pro-active and seeks to engage more fully with suppliers, and has led to the inclusion of sustainability standards in the criteria for its catering contract.
Greenwich is just one of the GFPP award winners (see box) continuing to make progress in sustainable public sector procurement. Other schools, councils, hospitals and even the emergency services are similarly not resting on their laurels, but moving forward, gaining recognition, and hopefully convincing other public institutions of the virtues of Good Food on the Public Plate.
In December, shortly after the GFPP awards took place, it was announced by the Mayor’s food adviser Rosie Boycott that the Greater London Authority (GLA) had committed to providing sustainable and healthy food to London’s police, transport workers, fire brigade and the GLA staff. That includes fish from sustainable sources, which means they are also supporting the Sustainable Fish City campaign.
Likewise, Camden and Islington councils (winners at the GFPP awards for activities such as minimising food waste, and using only MSC-certified fish) have since teamed up on a catering contract for their schools. In marked contrast to many other London boroughs, Islington and Camden have made school food a priority. By joining forces on the catering contract, they are maximising economies of scale and making a saving of 17 per cent on previous costs, savings which will be passed on to pupils and their families. Competition for such a large contract has pushed contractors to go further on sustainable and organic sourcing. ‘Innovation’ was part of the catering contract selection criteria, and the successful tenderer - Caterlink- came up with suggestions like buying organic produce on a Friday from wholesalers, when it is cheapest, and using less expensive but equally nutritious and delicious ‘class two’ (less cosmetically appealing) produce if it is to be used as an ingredient. Inspired!
But unfortunately it hasn’t all been good news since the GFPP awards: the effects of the government’s cuts are more tangible now, threatening to derail these positive efforts. For example, any progress schools and councils have made on school meals is threatened by the plans in some boroughs to devolve responsibility for lunches to individual schools. And in some boroughs the posts responsible for overseeing and monitoring school food are being cut entirely. There are also real concerns that the school lunch grant could be axed.
Which is why it is all the more important to learn from the positive experiences of institutions like Greenwich and ensure others follow its lead. As Andrea Mole Davis, general manager at ABM, remarked at the GFPP awards “it’s not even that hard” to get to where they are on sustainability standards, it just requires commitment. Which should be encouragement enough for everybody that putting good food first is a lesson they can easily learn too.
Held at City Hall at the end of last year, the awards – run by Sustain campaign Good Food on the Public Plate - recognised the admirable achievements of some of London’s public institutions in providing sustainable and healthy food. The event was a success, and all who attended will have felt hopeful about a more sustainable public sector. The winners ranged from universities like LSE, Greenwich and Imperial, to the Royal Brompton hospital, and organisations like the London Early Years Foundation. They were awarded for committing to using only free-range eggs and MSC-certified fish, but also for more imaginative activities, such as spending money charged as a levy on sales of bottled water on environmental projects.
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