Sustainable Catering: Putting our money where our mouth is

Whether it’s bagels, bagged lunches, or buffets, many of us buy food for work meetings or events. To make sure these purchases match our principles, there are many elements to consider, from what to serve and where it comes from, to how much waste it creates.

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At our sold-out fall quarterly meeting on September 5, we discussed the challenges and opportunities in Sustainable Catering.

Best practices for staff who purchase food

We first heard from Pam Neild, Sustainable City Government Coordinator for the City of Portland, who talked about the food purchasing best practices the City’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has created for staff. Their best practices fall under four general categories: the food you serve, the beverages you choose, setup, and waste prevention.

caterEmployees are encouraged to purchase food from local vendors, with a focus on vegetarian and vegan dishes as much as possible.

Serving food in smaller portions and served family style are best, since it allows people to choose how much they want and reduces food waste.

For beverages, provide water carafes and reusable cups instead of individual bottled water.

Communication with your food provider is also key: Let them know what not to bring, such as stir sticks and disposable cups.

To avoid waste, have reusable dishes and cutlery on hand, along with bins for dirty dishes, and let your food provider know not to bring disposable cups, dishes or utensils.

Pam stressed that the success of best practices is relative to the ease of the program. Make the program easy to understand and follow.

Vegan catering policy

Next, we heard from Ryan Shanahan of Earth Advantage, who told us about Earth Advantage’s policy of only serving vegan food for all internal and public meetings and events. This policy was voted on by staff (only one of whom is vegan) and passed by a two-thirds vote. Ryan said the response has been positive so far, and suggested framing the issue as a environmental one.

If you want to lower your organization’s carbon footprint by adopting a vegan-only policy, here are some tips from Ryan:

  • Let people know the benefits of vegan food. Meat and dairy production are huge contributors to climate change, and reducing consumption is a great way to lower your carbon footprint. Vegan food often has great health benefits as well.
  • Host a tasting party for vegan food – this helps combat people’s misconception that vegan food won’t taste as good, or be as filling, as food with dairy or meat.
  • Make it easy for staff: Create a list of vegan vendors and highlight popular vegan dishes (mezza platters, veggie tacos, etc.) so staff who have never ordered vegan dishes can be confident that their choices will be crowd-pleasers. A good place to start is or

How are we walking our talk with sustainable catering?

We did our best to follow sustainable catering best practices for this meeting:

  • Vendor: Aprisa, locally owned, and co-owned by an entrepreneur of color.
  • Food: Burrito bar with grilled veggies (vegan), salsa, and dairy sides (vegetarian).
  • Reusables instead of disposables: We provided reusable serving utensils, plates and utensils. Aprisa served food in reusable metal pans, and we contracted with Portland Pedal Power to pick them up after the event and return them to the vendor.
  • Delivery: We contracted with Portland Pedal Power to deliver the food by bike.
  • Donation: We contracted with Portland Pedal Power to pick-up any food that could be donated and take it to Portland Rescue Mission.

We’re aiming to continue to learn and improve our practices for future events – if you have suggestions or resources, let us know!


We want to hear from you!

Does your workplace have sustainable catering best practices? Do you have questions about sustainable catering? Or resources that others might find helpful? Let us know! Email us at

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