Whether it’s gathering around the tinsel-clad photocopier with beakers
of warm wine and a deep-fried canapé platter, or a meal out in a raucous
sea of coloured paper party hats; the annual office shindig is likely
to invoke groans and cheers in equal measure. What these – often hastily
planned – festive celebrations inevitably don’t tend to equal, however,
is eco-friendly eating.
But a growing number of companies are recognising that their Yuletide party is actually a great way to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility – sending a much clearer message to staff (and clients) about the organisation’s principles and ethos than a glossy brochure can.
And with the corporate sector under more scrutiny than ever since the credit crisis, and entertainment budgets at an all-time low, this trend looks set to continue. “We have quite a few ethically-minded companies that come to us for their Christmas dinner specifically because of what we do here,” confirms Emma Miles, from the Clerkenwell Kitchen, winner of the 2009 Time Out award for Best Sustainable Restaurant. “But last year in the middle of the credit crunch we also hosted several large banks that couldn’t be seen to be too extravagant with the company entertainment budget, for obvious reasons, and wanted to be perceived as doing the right thing,” she adds.
Sarah Moore, a caterer specialising in sustainability, says there’s absolutely no excuse not to ensure your meal is local and seasonal. “Our traditional Christmas dinner is about as seasonal and British as you can get – it’s an amazing time of year for produce in this country.”
Clerkenwell Kitchen’s Emma says the flashpoints to look out for when arranging your menu are avoiding red meat like the popular Christmas option: rib of beef – she recommends wild meat as an alternative – and salmon, which is also a favourite for Christmas menus, but tends to be farmed. “We don’t do turkey,” she explains, “but instead focus on game birds like wild pheasant and partridge, and also rabbit. Free-range, organic turkey is still quite unusual, and so the price tends to be prohibitive.” And, she adds, alarm bells should ring if a proposed Christmas menu features even one clearly out-of-season vegetable: “you wouldn’t find any tomatoes on our menu, and not a lot of leaf – at that time of year it’s all about hearty fare like mushrooms, kale and celeriac.”
Caterer Sarah agrees that anyone offering themselves as an ‘ethical’ caterer should automatically be buying local and organic wherever possible, and seasonal should be a given. The key, confirms Sarah, is to engage with whoever you are booking your party with, to make sure they understand your priorities in terms of the produce they will be using for the event. “Whoever you are speaking to should be able to fully account for where everything comes from, and what’s more, they should be really pleased and proud to tell you about it.”
Drinks are just as easy to buy sustainably too. There are plenty of good English wines to make your party sparkle, says Julia Trustram Eve, marketing director of the English Wine Producers association. “There’s a strong trend toward restaurants, and in particular wholesalers, approaching us for homegrown wines, because of the interest in local ingredients, sustainability and tracing produce,” she says. Beer-drinkers needn’t be left out – luckily the capital is host to a range of small, local, independent breweries, so there’s no excuse not to support them when you are buying in your booze. Try the likes of Greenwich-based Meantime, or The Kernel in Bermondsey.
Or if cocktails are more your thing, Organic Spirit, which launched six months ago, describes itself as the UK’s first organic and Fairtrade cocktail and canapé caterers. Mixologist David Hamilton Boyd specialises in festive cocktails based on seasonal, local, organic and Fairtrade spirits, fruit, and spices. “We make all our own syrups, stocks and sauces, to be sure that all of the ingredients are responsibly sourced,” he says, “and compost any leftover waste and use it in our garden, where we grow lots of herbs that make their way into many of the cocktails we make.” Turn to page 16 for some inspiration on how to shake-up some of your own sustainable creations.
Cutting down on post-party waste is also another way to lessen the impact. Plastic and polystyrene cups and plates usually end up in landfill, and incineration releases all kinds of nasty toxic gases which pollute the air. Obviously using your own crockery is the best solution, but if that’s not practical, then at the very least you can make sure your company orders in some biodegradable products. There are so many people specialising in this these days. Helen Pope founded the company Eco My Party when she was planning her environmentally friendly wedding. It specialises in disposable plates, bowls, cups, cutlery and napkins, all of which are biodegradable, ethical and sustainably produced. Or you could try The Edible Plate Company, which has a range of natural starch cutlery made from corn and potato, so if you are still hungry after the nibbles run out – you can always eat the plate!
Ethical office party extras
Many companies now eschew sending corporate Christmas cards in favour of electronic messages and charity donations. If your company is one of the few that still prefers the traditional approach, you could take advantage of the Woodland Trust Christmas card-recycling scheme, which recycles your cards and uses the money generated to plant thousands of trees.
Did you know you could buy Fairtrade balloons? Well you can! Most balloons are a menace to the environment, and either end up in landfill, or float off into the environment where they can do damage to wildlife. Instead, try biodegradable Greentips latex balloons, made from FSC certified and fairly traded rubber, available from http://www.fairdealtrading.com/
Finally, don’t ignore the infamous ‘secret Santa’ gift exchange. Instead of putting everyone through the potential trauma of receiving a ‘hilarious’ novelty adult toy or another throwaway stocking-filler book, companies are increasingly turning to ethical gifts and charity donations as a productive way to show they care.
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