Front Office > Food and Catering

The food you eat has an impact on your health, the health of others, and the environment. Using the product specifications and sample letter below, consider consulting with your current caterers, suppliers, and vendors to determine the availability of environmentally preferable food and serviceware options, subject to your current corporate sponsorship agreements. Also consider including environmentally preferable food specifications when catering events, and in future contracts and requests for proposal.

Environmentally intelligent food specifications

  • U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) “Organic” products
  • Seafood products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council
  • Zero trans fat
  • Non-genetically modified organisms
  • Vegetarian options
  • Free range and/or pasture-fed meat and poultry
  • Meat, poultry, and dairy products raised and processed without hormones and antibiotics
  • Fair trade, shade-grown coffee
  • Wine bottles sealed with natural cork instead of more polluting closures like plastic stoppers or metal screw-caps
  • Locally grown food
  • Minimal packaging
  • Products delivered in minimal, reusable, recyclable, or bio-based/compostable packaging

To locate nearby markets and other local food sources, search the Local Food Guide Database. The Organic Consumers Association’s business directory is another source of information about where to buy local and organic food.

Where possible, consider supplying office kitchens with reusable plates, glasses, and utensils instead of disposable items.  Also consider stocking kitchens with bulk items for condiments instead of individual packaging.  When hosting events and meetings, opt for reusables instead of disposables, and ask caterers to eliminate disposable serviceware from your orders.

Where it is not possible to choose reusable serviceware, consider disposable serviceware products that are recycled or bio-based content that can be recycled or composted.  See the Serviceware and Paper Products section of this guide for more information.

See the Composting and Food Donation sections of this guide for information about reducing and recycling food waste.

Bottled Water

Supply filtered tap water to employees in your office, or supply water from bulk containers. Encourage the use of reusable containers that can be refilled with tap water, or consider purchasing water coolers with reusable water jugs. For information on water filters, visit the website of the National Sanitation Foundation International, which provides listings of NSF Certified Drinking Water Treatment Units.

Discourage employees from purchasing single-serving bottles of water when possible. The production and consumption of bottled water has significant environmental impacts: Hazardous air pollutants are produced during the nonrenewable, fossil fuel-derived manufacture of plastic bottles; the transportation of these bottles consumes a significant amount of energy; and in the United States, an estimated 75 percent of these bottles are thrown in the trash instead of being recycled.

Natural Cork Stoppers

Wine stoppers made from natural cork are renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable. Cork is harvested from cork oak trees in a traditional, environmentally sustainable process where only a layer of bark is removed and the tree remains intact and undamaged. Cork oak forests are concentrated in the Mediterranean Basin biological hotspot that support 25,000 species of birds, plants, and wildcats, and cork production provides thousands of stable jobs for local communities. Many cork producers have acquired or are in the process of acquiring Forest Stewardship Council certification, which further ensures that the cork has been harvested legally and sustainably.

Artificial stoppers or screw tops cause much more global warming pollution during their manufacture, are made from non-renewable materials (including fossil fuel-derived plastics and aluminum) using more energy per ton to produce, and millions of artificial stoppers end up in our landfills and oceans.

Sample Letter to Food and Beverage Suppliers and Caterers

Dear _______,

[Our Organization] has initiated a policy to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss buying ecologically superior food and serviceware products in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to reusable serviceware, less packaging, and recyclable or reusable packaging within the next few years.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects on the environment and public health that are associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you about healthier and environmentally preferable alternatives to the food products, serviceware, and food packaging that we are currently using.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to discuss this further. Thank you for your time.

Sample contract language

[Our Organization] has adopted an environmental policy to improve its environmental performance. To further these goals, food-related products and services contracted for by the organization will be evaluated in part on their health and environmental attributes. Specific factors to be considered include:

  • U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) “Organic” products
  • Seafood products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council
  • Food with Zero trans fat
  • Non-genetically modified organisms
  • Vegetarian options
  • Free range and/or pasture-fed meat and poultry
  • Meat, poultry, and dairy products raised and processed without hormones and antibiotics
  • Fair trade, shade-grown coffee
  • Wine bottles sealed with natural cork instead of more polluting closures like plastic stoppers or metal screw-caps
  • Locally grown food
  • Minimal packaging
  • Products delivered with minimal, reusable, recyclable, or bio-based/compostable packaging and serviceware

Please address these concerns when submitting your proposals.

Environmental Benefits

The food we eat has diverse impacts on human health and the environment. Agriculture is one of the leading sources of water pollution in the world, causing pesticides, sediment, and fertilizer to run into rivers and streams, and the transportation of food contributes to global warming and other forms of air pollution. Food packaging uses considerable amounts of paper and plastic, and discarded food fills up landfills and contributes to the release of methane gas into the atmosphere.

Additional Resources

Detailed checklist of USDA Organic attributes
USDA Organic homepage
Sustainable Farming Practices
EPA – Pesticide Product Information System
100% Cork
Fair Trade Certified
NRDC: Eat Local