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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Annual NRA Show: fun, empowering & good for business!

Elemental Impact (Ei) has long-standing, strong relationships with the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and foodservice industry leaders. Subsequent to her corporate accounting career, Ei Founder Holly owned an off-premise catering company along with two restaurants for fifteen years. Many of Ei's powerful connections stem directly or indirectly from Holly's years as a foodservice operator.

Holly learning how to break down
a side of beef  during GFA days
In the late 1980's Holly attended the first ad hoc Atlanta Restaurant Council (ARC) monthly meetings hosted by Pano Karatassos, Buckhead Life Group co-founder. When the ARC evolved into an official organization within the Georgia Hospitality & Travel Association (GHTA), Holly served as a founding Board Member. After the GHTA disbanded into separate hotel | lodging and restaurant organizations, the ARC segued into the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA), a state affiliate of the NRA, after several intermediary identities.

Following her foodservice tenure, Holly served as the GRA official liaison with the chefs, among other responsibilities. During her GRA tenure Holly founded the Local, Sustainable & Green Roundtable where nationally renowned executive chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene served as co-chair. Slow Food Atlanta Founder Julie Shaffer co-chaired the round table with Linton.

At the second meeting hosted by the Four Seasons Atlanta, the round table attracted more than 100 attendees, including the Georgia Department of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner, City of Atlanta Director of Sustainability along with folks from the Center for Disease Control, Emory University, Georgia Organics and the American Culinary Federation. The GRA CEO announced the gathering was more than a round table, it was a movement. Thus, the Green Foodservice Alliance (GFA) was founded under the GRA umbrella.

Presenters @ press conference
announcing Ei | NRA collaboration
In February 2009, the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) were launched at an acclaimed press conference hosted at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) and led by Stanley Meiberg, then Acting Regional Director, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4. Laura Turner Seydel served as the ZWZ Chair. The ZWZ were a GFA program in partnership with Atlanta Recycles.

Ei was founded in February 2010 as the new ZWZ home. The following February the NRA announced a national collaboration with Ei | ZWZ at the ZWZ two-year anniversary press conference. The Zero Waste in ACTION (ZWA) Blog article, ZWZ Garners National Support, was a press conference overview featuring the national collaboration announcement.

In September 2012, the NRA purchased the ZWZ program with plans for national expansion within the state restaurant association network. The ZWA Blog, NRA Acquires the ZWZ, announced the monumental purchase.

Subsequent to the ZWZ purchase, Ei shifted focus from zero waste to Recycling Refinement, moving beyond landfill diversion, and Recycling Integrity, maintaining maximum material value with minimal energy expended. In 2014, the Sustainable Food Court Initiative, co-chaired by Ei Chair Scott Seydel and Doug Kunnemann with NatureWorks (NW), announced post-consumer food waste was the initiative's primary focus. The ZWA Blog, SFCI Targets Post-Consumer Food Waste, is a SFCI history | update and explains the challenges inherent within post-consumer food waste programs.

Doug & Tim @ end of
education session
At the request of GWCC Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer, Ei's SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - presented a two-hour compostable food & beverage packaging education session on April 8 for Levy Restaurants' downtown operations. Levy provides the foodservice for the GWCC, Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, and the New Atlanta Stadium under construction. 

The ZWA Blog article, Compostable Packaging: integral to zero waste programs and soil rebuilding, is an education session recap. As the article closes, the foodservice industry is issued a call-to-action:
It is time for the foodservice industry to step to the plate, take responsibility for food waste generated in their operations, send their food waste in a contaminant-free, beneficial stream to composting or other state-permitted facilities, and use their power of consumer demand to evolve packaging standards and establish ample permitted food waste destinations. Several years ago industry pioneers launched effective food waste programs; a path to follow is well-established.
With perfect timing, NW joined forces with the NRA ConServe Program to further food waste collection for composting within the foodservice industry. The May 12 NRA press release New Conserve Sponsor NatureWorks to Educate Restaurateurs About Compostable Packaging Options announces the NW sponsorship. In the release, Conserve Program Director Jeff Clark states:
NRA | USCC folks at end
of 2011 intro meeting
“Along with our Food Waste Reduction Alliance efforts and partnership with the U.S. Composting Council (USCC), we are excited to work with visionary companies like NatureWorks to promote business-friendly, environmental change.” 
In December 2011, Ei facilitated an introductory meeting with NRA and USCC executives where the NRA | USCC MOU - memorandum of understanding - discussion began. The ZWA Blog article, NRA Leads Industry Collaboration, recaps the important meeting; the Collaboration is Key to Success article announced the MOU. Here is the official language from the 2012 press release:
The NRA and USCC are teaming up to raise awareness about food waste diversion, composting education, and other sustainable activities nationwide. The two organizations will share educational resources and identify collaborative opportunities that promote awareness of the role composting plays in waste reduction, improved soil and water quality.
Inherent within a commitment to improved soil and water quality is comprehensive front and back-of-the-house food waste collection for compost programs. Compostable food & beverage packaging is essential to clean front-of-the-house operations where single-use plates, flatware and cups are used.

Holly serves as the self-appointed spokesperson for Compost,The Quiet Hero, who made his debut in a 90-minute solo 2010 NRA Show educational session. In an encore performance, our hero returned in 2011 to moderate the Compost,The Quiet Hero Returns with the HOW educational panel. The ZWA Blog article, The Quiet Hero Speaks, gives the WHY compost is important; the Compost, The Quiet Hero: An Encore Performance at the NRA Show article recaps the panel discussion on the HOW.

Full-bloom cherry blossom line
Lakefront Trail
With deep-rooted NRA and foodservice industry relationships, the annual NRA Show hosted at McCormick Place in Chicago is a top Ei priority. Holly arrives several days early for meetings and to capture the glorious spring - the Show times perfectly with prime tulip and cherry blossoms!

First on the 2015 Show agenda was the True Tales of Unexpected Triumph: The Bumpy Path to Sustainability moderated by Jeff Clark. 

Close friend and Ei Advisory Council Member Christy Cook, Sodexo senior manager sustainability deployment and field support, along with Richard Young, Food Service Technology Center senior engineer / director of education, John Mulcahy, Georgia-Pacific vice president – sustainability & compliance, and Christian Hardigree, Kennesaw State University, Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality founding director and professor, shared their experiences in the TED-style presentation format.

In her presentation, Christy emphasized the important role community culture plays in successful sustainability programs. While growing up on a small South Georgia farm, Christy experienced a community working together for the greater good, especially during harvest time. Equipment was shared and overall support for each other was common ground. 

True Tales panel during Q&A
When supportive community culture develops in an organization, sustainable best practices naturally flow into standard practices. In the busy corporate world, a convenience-based decision making culture is common, leading to wasted resources. Example: rather than hassling with repairs, associates may send broken smallwares to the landfill versus taking the time to diagnose and fix the equipment.

In his storytelling presentation, Richard told the audience about the worst day of his career when he almost shut his friend's restaurant down. The experience taught Richard about the many small, but significant, ways restaurants waste energy. A great foundation for his work at the nation's leading resource for commercial foodservice energy efficiency information was established.

Christian played an active role in the Q&A on creative solutions for food waste generated in foodservice operations. Last year Christian gave a hilarious, effective presentation on the Green Practices To Achieve Millennial Loyalty panel. 

CleanRiver booth
In addition to the True Tales panel, Jeff and Natalie Chadwick, NRA ConServe associate, orchestrated four well-attended sustainability panels where prominent industry leaders shared their expertise, successes and how they overcame challenges.

After the panel, Holly visited Ei Partner booths in the Show exhibit halls. Long-time Ei Partner CleanRiver Recycling Solutions (CRS) was first on the list with their premier booth within the NRA ConServe area. 

The prior week Holly spent time with CRS Founder & CEO Bruce Buchan and CRS Business Development Manager Tom Lembo at the 2015 National Zero Waste Conference hosted in Los Angeles. At the conference, Bruce and Holly were inducted into the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council Four-Year Club for attending each of the four annual conferences. The ZWA Blog article, Zero Waste Makes Good Business Sense, is a conference overview from Ei's perspective and features CRS in their sponsorship role.

Laura @ the ConServe
Around the corner from CRS was the NRA Conserve booth where they were "Serving up sustainability!" Timing was exceptional as Laura Abshire, NRA director of sustainability, was "womanning" the booth. Laura is the designated NRA representative at the annual Sustainable Food & Beverage Packaging Value Chain meetings; NRA Senior Editor | Writer, Sustainability Elissa Elan and Natalie accompany Laura to the meetings.

Each year executives from trade associations and non-profits from the entire sustainable food & beverage packaging value chain meet in Washington D.C. for a day of vibrant dialogue and sharing. For the past three years, Global Green's D.C. office hosted the meeting. Ei orchestrates the meeting administration and moderates the presentations and strategy session. The ZWA blog article, Sustainable F&B Packaging: moving from an emerging to a maturing industry, documents the December 2014 meeting.

Ian & Wendell on the
Show floor
Next on the booth visit itinerary was Ei Partner Eco-Products' easy-to-find, impressive booth. While at the booth Holly caught up with Eco-Products President Ian Jacobson, Vice-President Marketing Wendell Simonson and Senior Eastern Regional Sales Manager Ken Fraser. At the April 8 Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Education Session, Ken presented on success stories featuring zero waste programs at Red Rocks Amphitheater, Safeco Field and University of Colorado.

Keeping in the compostable packaging mode, Asean | StalkMarket was the next booth visited. It is always great to catch-up with owner Buzz Chandler, who serves as BPI President. BPI is the industry's recognized third-party compostable packaging certification organization. 

In 2012 Buzz contributed his vast industry expertise when the Sustainable Food Court Initiative Team crafted the Atlanta Airport Compostable Foodservice Ware Packet. Designed as an education tool for airport food vendors, the document set the packaging parameters for the compostable packaging provision in the then new Atlanta Airport concessionaire contract; BPI-certified compostable packaging was the established standard. The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta Airport Makes Bold Sustainable Statement, announces the contract provision while the Compostable Packaging Info Packet, is an overview of the packet.

On the second Show day, Ei Partner Novolex Chief Operating Officer Ben Mascarella treated Holly to a lovely lunch. The conversation centered on Ei's current | future initiatives and Novolex's recent industry expansion and diversification. It was exciting to see the new Novolex brands - Duro, Fortune, Bagcraft - in addition to their Hilex Poly bags at their Show booth.

Novolex was instrumental in the 2012 plastic film recycling pilot at Concord Mills, the SFCI Shopping Mall PilotThe ZWA Blog post, ACTION: Theme for the SFCI Shopping Mall Pilot, includes an overview of the plastic film recycling program implemented at Concord Mills. 

Louis & Ben @ the
Novolex booth
Spending quality time with good industry friends is always a highlight of the NRA Show. On Saturday evening, Novolex Director of Sales- Latin America Louis Herrera invited Holly to attend an amazing dinner at RPM Italian, hosted by Michael Hicks of Allen Brothers - the great steakhouse steaks. As a leading purveyor of USDA prime beef, Allen Brothers provides steaks to prominent steakhouses across the nation; Michael and Holly share many common friends within the Atlanta restaurant community. The superb dinner was an exceptional experience from culinary and social perspectives.

In Chicago for the Show, Ei Partner HMSHost Senior Manager, Contracting Devon Ray met with Holly and fellow partner Jordan Salpietra of Grease Lock Filters (GLF).  At the SFCI - Atlanta Airport, HMSHost took a leadership role in the testing and implementation of GLF at the busiest airport in the world. The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport honors sustainability partners at greeningATL Excellence Awards, includes a history of HMSHost's stellar sustainability practices at their Atlanta Airport operations.

GLF are the foundation for Ei's Airborne Kitchen Grease (AKG), a proactive approach to a costly cooking by-product, initiative that improves fire safety, prevents costly roof damage caused by AKG, saves water filled with grease & cleaning toxins, reduces third-party contracted kitchen exhaust system cleaning and saves money. For additional information, on the disposable filters visit the linked AKG page.

HMSHost | GLF executed a national contract in 2014 with the intention to implement GLF throughout HMSHost's extensive North American foodservice operations. At the Show meeting, the main topic was development of the national implementation plan. Devon, Jordan and Holly departed with good cheer and action points.

Christy, Michael & Jordan
at Greenstar Brewery
On Saturday Jordan and Holly met with Christy Cook to introduce AKG and discuss a potential pilot within Sodexo's Atlanta foodservice operations. Once business was complete, the trio headed to Uncommon Ground for a tour of on-premise, organic-certified Greenstar Brewery. Holly met Uncommon Ground co-owner Helen Cameron after her impressive ConServe sustainability panel presentation at the 2014 NRA Show.

Opened as Illinois' first organic brewery in July 2014, Greenstar Brewery occupies 1200 square feet in contiguous space to Uncommon Ground's Clark Street location. Helen's husband and co-owner Michael Cameron treated the enthusiastic group to an informative, fun brewery tour. The brewery space was built to serve as an entertainment venue for beer and music events that support the local community.

A master at creative marketing, Michael oversees the brewery along with its community-based promotions. Every Tuesday a portion of growler sales are donated to a rotation of local charities. Michael and Helen are active in the community and ensure their restaurants and brewery give back to those who support their establishments. The payback is a strong loyal clientele.

The eleven restaurant bar taps were 100% supplied by Greenstar Brewery. Holly was impressed with the black currant K├Âlsch, crafted in honor of Helen's German mother. Fun fact: the beer taps are made from fallen tree branches in nearby Jackson Park! Michael is friends with the gentleman contracted to remove fallen trees after storms or other mishaps.

Beyond the plethora of education sessions and exhibit hall explorations, the Show serves as a catalyst for scheduled and impromptu meetings along with fun expeditions like the Greenstar Brewery tour.

NRA Show exhibit hall
The 96th annual NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show attracted more than 63,000 total registrants from all 50 states and 100+ countries. Show attendance included 100% of the top 50 restaurant brands in the world; 98 of the top 100 restaurant brands. For the first time, the Show exhibit space spanned across three discrete buildings – McCormick Place’s North Building, South Building and Lakeside Center. IMPRESSIVE!

The Ei FB album, 2015 NRA Show, gives a pictorial recap of Ei's Show experience.

Although Ei works in a broad range of industries, the foodservice industry - the nation's second largest industry and employer - remains a center-stage focus within Ei initiatives. Ei's annual Chicago trip to the NRA Show is fun, empowering and darned "good for business!"