09 Nov 2010

How do you create a sustainable conference lunch?

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Now that we’re through the pomp and circumstance of the actual TEDxSMU event, we’re in the process of wrap up and debrief. One of the major issues we keep coming back to is how to provide quality food service for a 500+ person conference in a manner that’s as sustainable as possible.

During the 2009 TEDxSMU, we opted to offer boxed lunches, which created an extraordinary amount of waste: both in terms of leftover food and in terms of trash. Going into the production of the 2010 conference and with the help of a fantastic sustainability committee, we decided to work with the caterer to offer buffet-styled lunch for the conference. We knew it would be a tough proposition to feed as many people as we needed to in that time frame and in that space, but it allowed us to go to china and flatware as opposed to disposables, and we were able to package all the untouched leftovers and donate the food to The Stewpot.

In the end, I was thrilled we were able to donate the leftovers and have substantially less trash and waste, but I know the experience for our attendees was frustrating, crowded and often times with long waits.

So here’s the quandary moving forward: what’s the balance? What’s the right answer? How do you create the experience you want for the crowd, but with a consciousness towards the environment that reflects the values we believe in? I would love to know what you think…even though at this point it’s all theoretical since we’ve not yet committed to dates or a venue for next year! Surely there are creative answers we haven’t yet thought of as to how to hit both marks!

Thanks for your thoughts,

Sharon Lyle

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