Expert Interview – Sustainability Programs

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For this month’s Expert Interview I sat down with my colleague Grace Best, LEED GA, in our Jersey City Headquarters. Grace plays several roles at Imperial Dade, one being Director of Sustainability.

LC: Tell me about your role directing Imperial Dade’s Greensafe program.

GB: The Greensafe Program is focused on our customers’ sustainability initiatives. In the world of foodservice and janitorial distribution there has been a huge push for sustainable products but there is also a lot of confusion in the marketplace. My role is to help our customers understand their product options and explain about sustainable business practices in general. I also assist with reporting requirements related to our products and services. The concept of sustainability continues to evolve so I make it a point to stay on top of the trends, regulations, and certifications and keep our sales team informed.

LC: What got you interested in sustainability?

GB: A little over 2 years ago one of our large cleaning contractors needed assistance providing reports to their customers who managed LEED Certified office buildings. These reports are required for the building to meet criteria for Green Spend. This was something new for me and I decided to work with the customer to understand more about their needs. They took me under their wing and taught me about LEED Certification and green cleaning. I found it very interesting and was enjoying the challenge so I decided to take the exam and become a LEED Accredited Professional.

LC: Tell me more about the Green Spend and how that ties into LEED Certification.

GB: Green Spend reporting is needed to make sure that a building’s maintenance supplies are compliant with the LEED guidelines. This may include a third-party certification such as EcoLogo or a certain amount of post-consumer recycled content. For example, one of the largest buildings in New York City was up for LEED Certification. They were within their performance period which means that during that time their purchases of sustainable supplies must be at a particular level. Although the building is not our direct client, I worked with the cleaning contractor and carefully monitored their purchases each month to ensure they hit the mark. They were very appreciative of the extra attention I gave them during this process and presented me with their annual Client Focus Award.

LC: Congratulations! Sounds like you found your calling.

GB: I did and the timing was perfect. In New York City the foodservice industry was also focusing on sustainability. I was able to assist clients with their packaging options, explain the differences between compostable vs. recyclable products and show them how they could lower their carbon footprint. It was a new concept for many of the restaurants at that time and it was new education for me that I found really exciting. There is always something new to learn and then teach others.

LC: What are some common misconceptions that people have about sustainability?

GB: The biggest misconception is that by purchasing a sustainable product, they are now a sustainable business. This is difficult for people to understand. If a fast-casual restaurant chain wants to start implementing compostable products into their locations, they then must implement a new trash program. This includes having different trash cans on site clearly labeled for landfill, recyclable, and compostable trash. Then to take this a step further, they must locate compost facilities and hire another carrier to pick up the compostable items. The process truly goes full circle and it does require extra time, effort, and sometimes upfront costs. Our job is to explain all of the steps required and help the customer implement their program successfully.

LC: What are the current trends in sustainable foodservice and janitorial supplies?

GB: Right now the trend in sustainable foodservice supplies is pulp. Whether it is pulp bowls, plates or containers, even portion cups, its pulp. Everyone is looking for the next best pulp item with a unique size so they can differentiate themselves. Luckily for us we can deliver on those requests.

In the janitorial segment the trend is cleaning contractors promoting their green- cleaning programs. We focus on helping those cleaning contractors gain clients through our Greensafe Program. This includes going over all of the green certified products we have available and selecting the correct products for the situation. It also includes procedural training, reporting, and advice on best practices.

LC: What quick tips can you offer a business to get started in implementing a sustainability program?

GB: Do your research and ask for help. Know the facts before you begin. There is a ton of information out there but sometimes the information is inaccurate or even misleading. Seek the advice of a LEED Accredited Professional or a supplier partner that has a formal sustainable supply chain program.

Grace Best and Imperial Dade’s Greensafe Specialists are available to consult with customers about sustainability programs. Grace can be reached at gbest@imperialdade.com.