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National Restaurant Association - Sustainability, zero waste top agenda at business council conference

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Sustainability, zero waste top agenda at business council conference

Finding ways to help more businesses divert their waste from landfills topped the agenda at the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council’s recent annual conference.

The conference, held May 7-8 in Atlanta, drew hundreds of attendees and featured presentations by Jeff Clark, program director of the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve sustainability initiative, and environmentalist Laura Turner Seydel. The event focused on such topics as how businesses can lead the way toward zero waste, reducing waste in restaurant locations, and how to create long-lasting interest in sustainability among restaurateurs and other business operators.

“This conference brought together an impressive group of companies and individuals who are passionate about making businesses greener and sustainable for the long term,” Clark said. “Conferees shared lessons learned and solutions on how businesses can adapt those practices into their sustainability programs. The knowledge and excitement of the attendees was very encouraging.”

Conserve’s Clark talked about the NRA’s plans for its Zero Waste Zones initiative, which it acquired in 2013 from sustainability concern Elemental Impact in Atlanta. He also, along with restaurateur Steve Simon, president of Fifth Group Restaurants; Gloria Hardegree, executive director of the Georgia Recycling Coalition; Abbey Patterson, program manager for Atlanta Recycles; and Melissa Selem, Elemental Impact’s program administrator. The panel addressed the sustainable steps Atlanta has taken during the last five years.

“We are all committed to helping companies understand that practicing sustainability is good for business, their bottom lines and the environment,” Clark said. “Learning from the stories and case studies about what works, what’s achievable and how to prosper while doing good is essential to success.”

Seydel, Captain Planet Foundation chair and a director of the Turner Foundation, which helps fund the Conserve program and its Zero Waste Zones offshoot in Atlanta, said she and the foundation are pleased with Conserve’s progress in educating the restaurant industry about best practices.

Fifth Group’s Steve Simon told conference attendees that implementing sustainability programs into businesses requires patience and determination, but the reward is great.

“When you implement sustainability projects at your restaurant, understand from the outset that persistence is key,” Simon said. “Start slowly and then build up your efforts to meet the goals you have set. At Fifth Group we started with waste diversion and instructed our staff on how to recycle, then source separate organics. Of course there were challenges, but we eventually were able to divert hundreds of thousands of pounds of former ‘waste’ from the landfill…in every location. It has cost us virtually nothing to implement and it’s the right thing to do.”

The conference also honored Holly Elmore, Elemental Impact’s founder and CEO, with the 2014 Zero Waste Heroes award.

Pictured, top left: Laura Turner Seydel at this year's conference. Photo courtesy of Holly Elmore.

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