Helping the environment with “eco-friendly lunch boxes”
|Region(s)||Montréal, Québec, Canada|
|In domains||Food and Beverage Industry, Reduced Toxicity, Reuse of Materials|
|Participants||Avec plaisirs traiteur / catering|
Founded in 2001, Avec Plaisirs is a corporate catering company with over 60 employees that delivers business meals throughout the greater Montréal area. The company is affiliated with La Maison Traiteurs, a food services business group whose members include Agnus Dei Inc., a special events caterer, and Origine Bistro.
Thanks to owner David Carrier’s concern for environmental issues, Avec Plaisirs has introduced a number of measures to reduce the company’s environmental footprint and do more for the community. One of these measures, launched in 2008, is the “Ecofriendly Lunch Box”, which is made from 100% recycled cardboard and vegetable dyes. Not only is the box itself recyclable, but all utensils and food containers (the latter made from corn starch) can be composted.
The Ecofriendly Lunch box is based on the principles of “eco-design”, whereby the life-cycle of all the box’s components are taken into account: choice of materials, method of manufacture, transport, lifespan, waste disposal, etc. As mentioned above, the lunch box consists of biodegradable containers, dishware and cutlery; furthermore, contrary to most disposable and compostable packaging, the containers furnished by Avec Plaisirs are more solid and last longer. The company also offers biodegradable bags in which to dispose of the box, containers and utensils after the meal is finished.
Hoping to cut down on garbage and avoid wasting food, Avec Plaisirs tries to determine exactly how much food its customers require. In terms of nutrition, the company’s lunch box is aimed at providing healthy and balanced meals. Overall, sustainability is a primary concern for the company, and the lunch box has been designed with the following criteria in mind:
-Social sustainability: high-quality food = better health;
-Environmental sustainability: minimizing the lunch box’s environmental footprint and any waste produced;
-Economic sustainability: the product will help the company move into new markets.
After months of research and development, Avec Plaisirs was at last able to get its Ecofriendly Lunch Box off the ground. Doing so was difficult, but the company’s employees are proud to have overcome this challenge; if anything, working to make the lunch box a reality has brought them closer together.
When the company decided to move ahead with the project, it hired Pierre Morency of Nova Envirocom, a firm that specializes in environmental programs and waste management.
Avec Plaisirs also worked closely with renowned nutritional expert Isabelle Huot; this partnership has enabled the company to offer a menu full of nutritious and seasonal dishes all year long.
In undertaking its lunch box project, Avec Plaisirs decided to take a gradual approach, without cutting any corners. Carrier speaks of a philosophy that consists of “moving quickly at our own pace”, meaning that environmental initiatives are undertaken in keeping with the company’s rhythm and objectives.
By doing so, Avec Plaisirs has ensured that environmental concerns are integrated into the economic equation. In fact, it is with this philosophy in mind that all of its sustainability initiatives are implemented. Carrier and his team first check to see if a project is feasible and whether it will be beneficial to the environment and society. They also try to determine what returns the company will see on its investment (e.g., costs, employee involvement, improved brand visibility, etc.).
During a presentation to the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal on June 12, 2009, Carrier highlighted the importance of having sufficient “room for error” when implementing sustainable development initiatives. By this he means that a company planning to introduce a sustainable practice has to develop an organisational structure or corporate culture that allows for flexibility. Given that such practices are often innovative and the first of their kind, it is only through trial and error that a high-value and viable product or service can be developed. This is often easier to do for a company the size of Avec Plaisirs than it is for large corporations or government bodies.
However, this process has not always gone smoothly for Avec Plaisirs, and maintaining “room for error” has been crucial. For example, Carrier says the company at one point failed to meet one of the organic decomposition criteria for a certain certification it was seeking, and was therefore forced to begin all over again. He says it was important for him to obtain sufficient certification to ensure that the project was legitimate. It is likely that this episode was rather costly for the company.
In terms of production expenses, some items (such as utensils) cost approximately the same as those made of plastic or styrofoam, but others may be 10-15% more expensive. Everything depends on the volume ordered. The company says that it did not think customers would be willing to pay more, but it believed that the product would be sufficiently appealing to attract new customers.
The lunch box project has created a strong sense of belonging amongst the employees at Avec Plaisirs. The initiative has also bolstered its reputation and that of its sister companies. Customers appreciate being able to purchase a product with a low environmental footprint. Avec Plaisirs says in a press release that this initiative has even become one of its trademark products. The company has also become more prominent in Québec’s environmental community, which will no doubt lead to increased business.
It seems that the practice’s component of rigorous life-cycle analysis has not been adopted by other businesses, which will thus allow Avec Plaisirs to position itself in Québec as a true leader in terms of sustainable growth. Other lunch box products on the market are often worthwhile with regard to the products they contain, but not necessarily in terms of packaging or manufacturing.
Other companies in Québec’s food and beverage industry that provide catering services, such as Capital Traiteur (Montréal) and Traiteur Fine Bouche (Estrie), now offer compostable dishware.
Java Green Organic Eco-Café, based in Washington, D.C., offers an “Eco Lunch Box Meal”.
In Vancouver, Savoury City Catering offers a range of services that are environmentally-friendly. The company supplies ceramic serving dishes, wicker baskets and utensils made of birch, the latter of which will biodegrade within 45 to 60 days. The same is true for the utensils provided by Avec Plaisirs, but they are not made of wood, which is more solid and appears to be of better quality than standard plastic cutlery.
Savoury City Catering is a member of Vancouver’s Green Table Network, an association of restaurant professionals working together with food producers to develop practical and concrete environmental strategies.
In response to growing demand from consumers, many caterers are now becoming socially responsible. One example is Buffet Insère-Jeunes Montréal, a catering company and bakery that also provides social and professional reintegration services. A member of the Collectif des Entreprises d’Insertion du Québec (CEIQ), Buffet Insère-Jeunes also offers a lunch box product. Another such company is Cuisine Collective Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, also based in Montréal.
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