Monday, November 17, 2008

Green lunchrooms and kitchens at work make a difference

At many companies, the only acknowledgment that employees need to eat and drink is a bare break room...some tables, maybe a few vending machines featuring the popular junk food of the day and maybe a microwave. The result?

Most people go out to eat fast food, order in, or snack on the vending machine fare.

Aside from obvious health issues associated with this, there's a green factor as well. Or rather several green factors.

1) Going to the fast food drive through means employees are using their cars...and contributing to the carbon footprint. Sitting idling in the line is even worse than the to and from.

2) Fast food is typically heavily packaged, so a sandwich, fries and a drink generates a large amount of non-recycled trash including boxes, cartons, bags, straws, wrappers, cups, paper napkins and plastic condiment packages.

3) Ordering in requires a delivery person to drive, again adding to the carbon load.

4) Delivery food may be even more packaged than fast food, including reflective covers or plastic covers, foil trays and plastic flatware.

5) Vending machine food reflects a high level of processing, so factories are using energy to prepare and package the food, the food must be delivered via car or truck, and the food is typically packaged in non-recyclable plastics.

So how can a company make lunchtime greener...and save money on employee health issues, too? Here are some suggestions from readers and others:

1) Create a green lunchroom. Add an energy efficient refrigerator so employees can bring lunches from home. Leftovers and other "brown-bagged" meals are typically lower in fat, sugar, salt and processing than fast food or delivery alternatives.

2) Provide a sink and washing supplies so employees will use glass or reusable plastic containers for their food. Having a way to wash up after eating encourages employees to bring reusable containers.

3) Have enough energy-efficient microwaves to make heating food feasible during peak lunch hours.

4) Give employees enough time to eat a proper lunch. If you only have half an hour, a fast food burger might feel like the only option. A full hour not only encourages healthier eating, it will allow employees to function more productively in the afternoon, as they will have had a significant restorative break.

5) If possible, offer hot or cold healthy lunches at work. Contract with a caterer or restaurant who has adopted green practices, and have them bring in minimally packaged foods.

6) Work with your vending machine supplier to replace highly packaged and highly processed foods with fresh fruit and food in recycled containers. Make sure there are visible recycling bins in all break and lunch rooms, and actively encourage employee recycling.