Bon Appétit Management Company: Leading the Way on Sustainable Food

sus food2By Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

What do Reed College, the University of San Francisco and Oberlin College have in common? They all recently received an “A” grade for their food and recycling efforts from the College Sustainability Report Card.

And behind their success is not Sustainable Food for Dummies nor Cliff Notes. Supporting their food programs is Bon Appétit Management Company, a caterer based in Palo Alto, California, with a deep commitment and track record of leadership in the field of sustainable food. While they serve large corporate clients, including Google and EBay, they also have a long list of education food service clients.

Large institutional buyers have the purchasing power to help shift the food system in a more sustainable direction. And a partner like Bon Appétit can help make the shift easier.

Best practices

In Time Magazine’s recent piece on what it will take to scale sustainable food production, they highlight some of Bon Appétit’s best practices:

  • The company sources as much of its produce as possible from within 150 miles of its kitchens and gets its meat from farmers who eschew antibiotics.
  • They also try to influence their customers’ habits by nudging them toward greener choices – including campaigns to reduce food waste, in part accomplished by encouraging servers at its kitchens to offer smaller, more manageable portions.
  • And Bon Appétit supports a low-carbon diet, one that uses less meat and dairy, since both have a greater carbon footprint than fruit, vegetables and grain. The success of the overall operation demonstrates that sustainable food can work on an institutional scale bigger than an élite restaurant, a small market or a gourmet’s kitchen — provided customers support it.

The College Sustainability Report Card details some of the best practices of those schools with an “A” in Food:

  • University of San Francisco: Dining services at USF works with 30 to 40 local producers, including a local dairy, in addition to purchasing fair trade coffee and cage-free eggs. Compostable containers are available for take-out. A comprehensive recycling program diverts 67 percent of the university’s waste, while food waste is composted.
  • University of Pennsylvania:  The university supports local farms with a farm-to-institution program and by hosting weekly farmer’s markets where students may purchase items using their meal plans. A small garden maintained by students, called the Edible Forest, is a pilot for urban food production.
  • Oberlin College: As part of Oberlin’s Buy Local program, about 35 percent of the total food budget is spent on items sourced from approximately 30 local farms and a local dairy. Some biodegradable containers are used.
  • Reed College: Food is sourced from a dozen or so local farms, including a local dairy. Fair trade coffee, local organic produce and organic meats are offered on campus. Biodegradable to-go plates are available and students receive a discount for bringing a reusable cup. Food waste is composed and leftovers donated to local food kitchens.

From farm to fork

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Time’s photo essay, From Farm to Fork, illustrates how Bon Appétit “…is searching for a greener way to produce your lunch.” Bon Appétit,s web site also includes some tips for how to reduce your food footprint:


1. You Bought It, You Eat It – Don’t Waste Food
When you waste food, you waste the energy used to grow, transport and cook it. In landfills, food waste releases methane gas, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Buy and prepare only the food you expect to eat. If you don’t finish it all in one sitting, save the leftovers.

2. Make “Seasonal and Regional” Your Food Mantra
Foods that are in season in your region are generally lower in carbon. Those should be your first choice. Be careful not to buy produce grown in greenhouses or hot-houses heated with non-renewable energy even if they’re close to you.

3. Moooove Away From Beef and Cheese
Livestock creates 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If you eat meat and cheese, consider reducing portion sizes, selecting these items less frequently, and eating only those products you REALLY love.

4. Stop Flying Fish and Fruit – Don’t Buy Air-Freighted Food
For seafood and out of season produce, “fresh” often means “air-flown” which is 10 times more emission-intensive than transporting products by ship. The best quality seafood is usually ‘processed and frozen at sea’ and local produce tastes better.

5. If It’s Processed and Packaged, Skip It
Snack foods, most juices, even veggie burgers (prepared, boxed, frozen and transported) consume a lot of energy. We eat this stuff mindlessly. When you need a treat or an “easy grab,” choose fresh local fruit, small quantities of nuts and delicious homemade alternatives.


Deborah Fleischer, founder and president of Green Impact, works with mid-sized companies to launch green initiatives that encourage innovation and grow market share. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at

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