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Reducing Food Waste Around the World: Balancing Local Relevance with Global Impact

Aug 5, 2019

Guest post by Susan Wagner, Senior Director, International, Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities

Over the last decade, Microsoft has demonstrated a rigorous commitment to carbon reduction which resulted in the company achieving its first official carbon neutrality across its global portfolio in 2012 and continues to this day. We’re now building on that success with a number of creative programs to keep food waste out of landfills.

Often, our employees see an opportunity for eco-friendly improvements, and then act to bring them about. Last summer, a gardener at Microsoft’s Herzliya campus in Israel saw an opportunity to compost the fruit pulp produced from the new juicer in our campus café. The local composting program doesn’t include businesses, so he decided to build roof-top gardens on the buildings. He crafted a couple of composter barrels and built the raised garden beds out of the Herzliya campus’s used tables, shelves, and pallets. On a daily basis, the café employees dumped the fruit rinds and pulp into the barrels—along with coffee grounds, filters etc.—then rotated them to mix. After a month of decomposing, the first batch of compost was ready to mix into the soil of the rooftop garden.

By spring, the first crop of lettuce, celery, tomatoes, and herbs was turned into delectable fresh salads for employees.

The Herzliya composting program is so successful that, when the campus moves to another building next year, the rooftop composting and garden will go as well.

Feeding the hungry in Paris

Beyond our focus on food waste composting, we looked at other ways to divert food waste. At our location in Paris, we challenged ourselves to reduce the amount of food that wasn’t eaten, and then thrown away.

Our real estate Portfolio Manager in Paris started to research ways to repackage the unused food then redistribute it to people who need it.

She found Le Chainon Manquant, (“Missing Link”), a Paris nonprofit that employs drivers to collect surplus food from businesses, catering companies, large events, and restaurants, then redistributes the food to organizations that serve homeless and other food-insecure populations. Our Paris office contracted with them to send drivers for daily pickups of whatever was left over from lunch. They repackage the prepared food into individually wrapped meals that include starter, main course, vegetable, and dessert, then deliver the meals to shelters and food banks.

Our employees are proud that the unused food is going to hungry people who need it. The program is also creating jobs for the drivers who pick up the food and we’re raising awareness with other corporate dining organizations who are now considering similar programs. In our Paris café operations, our chefs are more sensitive about food waste, and work to reduce the amount they produce each day.

Analytics for source reduction in Schiphol

When we opened our new Schiphol office last year, we introduced a program to combat food waste with data. Partnering with a catering company known for its emphasis on sustainable practices, we implemented a dashboard that uses data routinely (and anonymously) collected throughout the workday—such as badge data on the numbers of people in the building at a given time. We use this data to forecast the amount of food needed each day and the amount to supply.

When combined with information about the weather, the season, even the day of the week, the data provides us with accurate dashboard forecasts. The dashboard knows, for instance, that more salads will sell on Tuesdays than Wednesdays, since Wednesdays are a day off from school for Dutch children, compelling many parents to work from home those days.

 The catering company also operates an “anti-waste factory,” where bruised or unsightly fruits and vegetables (nicknamed “ugly produce”) can be made into smoothies, soups, and salads where looks don’t matter. These prepared foods are then brought back to the café at the Schiphol office to sell to employees.

Ingenuity reigns at the anti-waste factory, where coffee grounds are used to grow mushrooms, orange pulp from the juicer is made into soap, leftover bread becomes an ingredient for beer, and that same beer emits a dry hops during brewing that gets made into a granola topping.

Locally, catering businesses generate seven percent food waste compared to two percent with our café program. We are encouraged by these results and we’re planning for more build-your-own stations where employees can take exactly what they want to eat, a proven way to reduce waste.

A composter upgrade in Hyderabad

On the other side of the globe, our campus in Hyderabad, India, has a 100kg Micro Waste Composter that for the last eight years has been turning café fruit peelings and vegetable waste into compost. This program was so successful that we decided to expand the material processed to include not only plant waste but all food. This spring, the campus upgraded to a 400kg Organic Waste Composter (OWC) capable of processing the food related waste in just 24 hours per load, generating four times the compost in a tenth of the time. A few months into Hyderabad’s use of the OWC, compost generation has been so abundant that the surplus has been going home with employees for use in their gardens.

The program was so successful that when nearby companies learned about our OWC, they acquired the own machines for their campuses.

Susan Wagner

Our Microsoft Real Estate team is testing new programs and learning daily at our properties around the globe. We see our locations as more than workplaces. They are living labs where small measures taken by many people can add up to a big difference.



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