American Hotel & Lodging Association shares food waste project results, hotel toolkit

Back in March, the American Hotel & Lodging Association launched a series of pilot projects aimed at reducing food waste in the hotel industry. The project, which was developed in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, also included participation from Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, Sage Hospitality and Terranea Resort.

The groups said at the outset that the objective of the initiative is that, in joining the fight against food waste, the hospitality sector can not only reduce its environmental footprint but also improve bottom lines and elevate the sustainable culture of the 21st century.

Now, the groups are revealing the results of those projects as well as releasing a toolkit with strategies to help hotel properties and brands meet measurable, time-bound goals to reduce food waste.

First, the results, according to the AH&LA:

Ten hotel properties participated in the 12 weeks of demonstration projects, including a mix of full-service branded hotels and several independent operations across the country. They tested different waste reduction strategies, including low-waste menu planning, staff training and education, and customer engagement. Overall, participating properties reduced food waste at least 10 percent and in some cases properties lowered food costs by 3 percent or more after increasing measurement and engagement. These findings support case studies conducted by waste tracking technology companies, which typically show cost reduction of 3 percent to 8 percent.

The program results also revealed that teams achieved greater success at properties where the owners, general managers and executive staff were highly engaged.

“This project demonstrated that hotel staff can establish new approaches to cut food waste, which in turn reduces food preparation and disposal costs,” said Pete Pearson, director of food waste at the World Wildlife Fund. “Collaboration and leadership by sectors like the hospitality industry will allow us to implement prevention strategies and solve problems faster.”

Next Steps

In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Champions 12.3, WWF and AHLA recommend that U.S. hotels accomplish the following:

  • Measure food waste and set reduction goals from a baseline year.
  • Establish food donation strategies and community food recovery partnerships.
  • Set goals that ensure inedible food waste from hotels is diverted away from landfills.

“Hotels are more committed than ever before to reducing food waste,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA. “We are encouraged by the findings of the demonstration projects and are excited to be able to share the tools we have developed with our broader membership. By partnering with WWF and The Rockefeller Foundation, we can share new tools and resources to build on the success of this program and propel the industry to a new level of commitment around food waste reduction.”

The average American household spends an estimated $1,500 to $2,000 a year on food they never eat, according to a press release from the AH&LA. Businesses, manufacturers and farms spend $74 billion creating and transporting food that ends up in a landfill at an enormous environmental cost—wasting money, as well as land, water, energy and other limited, valuable resources needed to produce food. With all that wasted food, the planet’s malnourished could be fed several times over.

As a culmination of their efforts, WWF, AHLA, and The Rockefeller Foundation developed a toolkit that shares key findings and guiding principles as well as provides next steps to tackle food waste in the hotel industry. The toolkit is an easy-to-use guide to help drive sector-wide participation in food waste reduction programs. The toolkit stresses the value of regular training programs, outlines a sequence of practices to develop food waste prevention strategies, and advises on how to collect and share data to adjust and improve performance. It also urges instilling a greater value towards food among staff and guests—something that is applicable across the entire food system.

“We no longer have the luxury of time. Because our food carries such a high environmental cost, avoiding waste is a win-win for both business and the planet,” said Pearson. “As these demonstration projects show, with increased hotel industry engagement, we know we can make a difference. We strongly encourage more hotel companies to participate in this valuable program and accelerate change.”

Other Hotel Efforts

The issue of food waste is being taken seriously by a variety of other hotel companies beyond the AH&LA project. For instance, Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, which had 7 million pounds of leftover food in 2015, sends food scraps to a hog farm, where it becomes food for the animals.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge provides waste vegetable oil to a local organic farm to fuel the delivery truck and on-farm generator, while in Vancouver, the Fairmont Waterfront is working toward being a zero-waste hotel by the end of 2016.

And AccorHotels, one of the world’s biggest hotel chains, plans to cut food waste by a third, in part by slimming down menu offerings and planting vegetable gardens at 1,000 of its nearly 4,000 hotels by 2020.