“Topics in Sustainability” from 3 great speakers!

Last night, the University of Guelph Sustainable Restaurant Project (UGSRP) held their 2nd Annual UGSRP Forum: “Topics in Sustainability”.  Much like their successful panel discussion last October, this year’s line up of speakers did not disappoint.  For those that were in attendance, they will probably agree the evening was both informative, thought provoking and inspirational.

The evening began with a thank you to one of UGSRP’s major partners, Earls Kitchen & Bar, who helped make the forum possible, followed by the first speaker, University of Guelph Assistant Professor, Mike Von Massow.

Mike is active in the University of Guelph Sustainable Restaurant Project as well as revenue management teaching and research for the School of Hospitality and Tourism.  Mike began his talk with a definition of what sustainability really means to him; the capacity to endure… “we can’t keep doing what we are doing”.  He goes on to express that it can’t just be about the environment, but also about economics, social sustainability, stable networks and stable communities.  All of these factors together contribute to a sustainable future.  This is what UGSRP is trying to achieve through joint learning and experiential learning.  Mike went on to describe some of the projects UGSRP has been working on the past year:  Life Cycle Analysis; developing a fundamental understanding of where you food comes from, Plate Waste; pointing out that we can help the price of food go down by reducing waste and thus reducing demand, and lastly research on Tips & Gratuities in restaurants; how are we going to attract and keep good people in our industry. Sustainability includes such a broad number of topics that combined together all have relevance to our ‘capacity to endure’ and Mike’s philosophy with UGSRP has always been “to teach, to learn and to share”.

Next up was Tim Faveri of Tim Hortons Canada.  Tim is responsible for cross-functional execution of the company’s sustainability and responsibility strategy, stakeholder engagement and corporate sustainability reporting.  For Tim Hortons, sustainability means Individuals, Community and Planet.  Tim was great at outlining the complexity of sustainability and some of the challenges and ‘speed bumps’ their large corporation faces when trying to implement new strategies.  A common issue is that these strategic priorities also need to link to business strategic priorities to drive value into the business.   Some of the exciting initiatives Tim described in his presentation include Nutrition; people want healthy food on the menu, the Tim Hortons Coffee Partnership; an opportunity to help and support the communities producing their coffee and finally an extensive Recycling Program; custom recycling receptors at stores across Canada as well as the Cup to Tray program.  It was interesting to hear the difficulties they have had implementing some of these initiatives.  An example he shared is that their coffee cups ARE recyclable, however not all municipalities have the capacity or technology to accept/recycle them.  Tim has also worked to establish sustainability reporting for the entire company, which can be found at http://sustainabilityreport.timhortons.com/.

Lastly was the keynote speaker of the evening, Barton Seaver.  Barton is a chef, author, speaker and National Geographic Fellow working to restore our relationship with the ocean, the land, and with each other – through dinner.  He believes food is a crucial way for us to connect with ecosystems, people and cultures of our world.  This was very apparent during his captivating 20 minutes of speech.  Barton was a breath of fresh air in a topic that sometimes seems to have no real solution.  A very resonating point he expresses is that “if humans are the problem, we are the solution”.  He feels the western world has forgotten the difference between need and desire and that we are living with no limits; no limits of comfort, no limits of life, no limits of food “for we have long surpassed nature’s boundaries”.  What he has found is that currently more people are made sick or die of over-consumption than starvation.  “We need to create a human solution, reexamine what we think we deserve to take from our planet, to redefine what we think we need”.  He feels sustainability shouldn’t be about finding more food to feed more people, it should be about better nourishing people with the food that we have; “the health of our bodies, comes from the health of our environments.”

An interesting point he made about sustainability was that we have all these tools to help guide us, such as recycling, fair trade, organic, carbon trade etc. but no one seems to have a discussion about what we are actually using these tools to build, “what are we seeking to actually achieve with these mechanisms?”  He continues on with optimism and points out that we are the solution, we are able to realign our expectations of what we think we need.  He wants us to shed the term sustainable, “that limits us simply to endure” and replace it with the noun restoration; a noun that implies action, something that gives us credit for earning our lifestyle by behaving and living in ways that are sustainable.

He ended his talk with a benediction, “when you sit down to dinner tonight…eat with care, simply be mindful of the impact of your choices, eat with joy and celebrate the fact that we may continue to participate in the bounty of this planet and ultimately, let’s eat together, the communion of the commons, to remind us of what unites us all on this big, beautiful and mostly blue planet.”

The evening finished with a brief question period, of which everyone seemed speechless at first, no doubt with more questions swirling through their minds than they could have imagined.  Many thanks to all that attended, and especially the guest speakers who evoked thought in all of us.

You can find more information on Mike and UGSRP’s projects by taking a look at the “New Findings” link on this blog.

Tim Hortons Cup to Tray Program: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf5mH_Wwc5A

Contact Tim Faveri directly via email at makingatruedifference@timhortons.com.

Check out Barton’s TED talk about Sustainable Seafood:  http://blog.ted.com/2010/10/27/sustainable-seafood-lets-get-smart-barton-seaver-on-ted-com/

And Barton’s website for more information on his book, videos and recipes! http://www.bartonseaver.org/

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