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National Restaurant Association - Education key to adopting sustainable practices, NRA’s DeFife says

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Education key to adopting sustainable practices, NRA’s DeFife says

Education will be a key factor in forwarding the message of sustainability to restaurateurs, other business operators and lawmakers, Scott DeFife, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs said at the U.S. Composting Council’s annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

DeFife, who spoke at the conference’s plenary panel Jan. 29, said the NRA is invested in educating the industry on the importance of sustainability as well as making the business case that underscores its profitability environmentally and economically.

“With the help and support of some key leaders in the industry, we created the Conserve Sustainability Education program, which emphasizes education on the business case for sustainability,” he said. “What we’ve found is that educating restaurateurs in what goes on in the back of the house, from the appliances they cook with to energy and water use, packaging, management processes and even organics collection techniques, goes a long way toward increasing their appreciation for the potential impact on their budgets.

“We have 13 million people working in our industry,” he continued. “There’s a tremendous training opportunity there on proper disposal, so it’s important for us to teach operators about sustainable practices that can lead to savings and return on investment. We can help them teach their employees how to operate better and turn waste material into a profit center.”

William Caesar, president of WM Recycle America L.L.C. and WM Organic Growth Inc., subsidiaries of Houston-based Waste Management Inc., also addressed attendees, saying his company “is at an inflection point in its history. We’re changing the way we do business and not because we think it’s a nice thing to do. We’re changing because our customers and economics demand it. Our customers have different needs, expectations and lots of challenges. For us, that means we have to find lots of different solutions. There isn’t just one thing we can use to change our model.”

Caesar noted that despite the challenges his company is experiencing, it has so far made the right decisions. In order for WM to continue to succeed, however, he said the company will have to know its customers better than anyone else.

“First, we have to figure out what it is they want and what they’re capable of doing and how much they’re willing to change their operations in order to achieve their goals,” he said. “Second, we’ll have to extract more value from the materials we manage. That is what my job is – trying to get as much material value out of the cardboard, aluminum, plastic and organics we pull out. And our last goal is to try to do these things using innovation and as efficiently as possible.”

The NRA’s DeFife said he is excited about the future of sustainability and the Association’s role in sharing the information with its members.

“I think the future is strong,” he said. “From the restaurant perspective, I think we’ve really just touched the beginning. We’ve got a lot of education to do and we’ve only just started. We have some survey results that show while there is great interest, many have not yet started down this path. And even if they are [already involved], they’ve got much more to do going forward.”

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