503-726-5927 info@incitesp.com
The way we produce and consume food has a large impact on the environment. Fortunately, consumers are growing in their awareness of this impact. Now, more than ever, senior living communities are stepping up to decrease their environmental impact as residents desire their dining experience to take sustainability into account.

In addition to residents, dining staff desire to influence environmental and cultural change, too. Team members are often eager to reduce waste and up efficiency in the kitchen. 

A few steps can launch forward-thinking senior living communities as they move to meet the sustainability desires of residents and empower their staff to create change. 

1. Start Small

We spoke with hospitality sustainability expert Dr. Aurora Dawn Benton, founder of Astrapto, on how senior living communities can engage sustainability initiatives in the dining room. She says small things like switching to energy-efficient light fixtures, high-efficiency dishwashers, and installing foot pumps on hand washing sinks can make a big impact on your community’s bottom line and do better for the environment. 

“People need to get comfortable with figuring out the possible cost savings for switching to more sustainable products and processes. The opportunities are everywhere,” she said. “Typically, you will find that the cost savings more than covers the cost of any new equipment or staff training time.”

In addition to energy-efficient equipment, Dr. Benton noted that portion studies could give dining departments the insights they need to reduce food waste and tighten up on labor usage.

“Doing things like a portion study can show you where serving sizes may need to be smaller. In turn, your kitchen staff may need to prep less food. Instead, your staff can spend time doing other vital kitchen tasks, and lessen food waste,” she says.

During a CMS survey, a portion study is a bonus to have on hand. This extra documentation proves to surveyors that residents receive the appropriate portions to meet the necessary dietary requirements.

2. Empower your staff

From food prep to sales, staff of all departments should be trained and knowledgeable about your communities sustainability initiatives. Many communities have begun to make significant strides in sustainability but aren’t communicating these changes and their benefits to staff and prospective residents.

“I’m shocked at how often sales teams don’t mention sustainability initiatives during their tours or pitches. Sustainability probably isn’t a top priority for families moving a loved one to a nursing facility. Still, it may set you apart if they compare several facilities to yours,” says Dr. Benton. “When selling your services, it is always important to mention the environmentally-conscious decisions your organization has made and continues to prioritize.”

Dr. Benton says forming green teams within your organization is another small step that can lead to a big impact. Green teams are groups of 1-10 staff members from various departments who meet regularly to discuss and implement sustainability initiatives. 

“First, task the green team with educating themselves on environmental and sustainability problems your organization and community are facing. Have them research the infrastructure in your community when it comes to composting, renewable energy, and waste management.

The more they know, the more they will feel comfortable discussing possible solutions. With some training and encouragement, you will be amazed at the things the green team comes up with and the money saved from their ideas,” she says.

3. Consider environmentally-friendly upgrades

Consider sustainable furnishings if you plan to refurbish your kitchen or dining spaces. Dr. Benton says some furniture is made with toxic chemicals and should not be allowed in a healthcare setting.

“Educate yourself on the chemicals used to make certain types of flooring and furniture. It is a great opportunity for your facility to set a policy around what you will and won’t accept when it relates to these toxins,” she says.

Using local art and materials when possible is another way to increase sustainability when refurbishing a dining area or lobby. Channeling spending locally strengthens the economy and allows your organization to connect to the greater community.

If you’re prioritizing energy efficiency during a refurbishment, consider hiring someone to do a building commissioning study before starting the project. The study can optimize your energy usage and lessen your environmental impact.

4. Leverage your community influence

Senior living communities often have a big social influence on their community. Your established green team, staff, leadership and residents have the power to enact bigger change.

“I’ve seen many healthcare organizations become a catalyst for sweeping changes in their communities. They’ve gotten on the radar of their local government and pushed for better waste management infrastructure and other sustainability initiatives. If you have that kind of leverage in your community, use it,” says Dr. Benton.

Dr. Benton says it is essential to act now when it comes to lowering your environmental impact. 

“When it comes to sustainability, you can’t just keep kicking the can down the road. You can start now; you don’t have to change everything overnight. Even taking some small steps, like engaging a green team, is going to reap a lot of benefits.” 

Retirees make environmentally conscious decisions daily, and they expect their senior living communities to do the same. Engaging staff and enacting small changes can help your organization meet the demands of residents – while improving your bottom line and doing better for the planet.