Wasting Away or Saving the Day? Food Management– our Biggest Challenge in Sustainable Events?

Why should events professionals care about food waste and management? What can we do to make our audiences aware of this issue, and how can we make it fun?

Food waste is a global problem which affects us all; and there are few issues within events which are as universally wasteful as the topic of leftover food. This is a great opportunity for all of us events managers to ensure that we are sustainably sourcing and promoting food and beverage to our stakeholders. This will not only save us money, but will also have a great impact on the environment, and will enhance the experience of our event attendees.

1/3 of all edible food produced for human consumption is wasted each year

…Generating up to 3.3 billion tons of green house gases.

(Feed Back, 2016)

So how can we help reduce this? And more importantly how can we make it fun?

There are many ways for events managers to reduce food waste and many of these are simple if you’re serious about sustainable events:

Work with your suppliers

Listen to your chefs – they know what’s in season & what’s fresh, and this is likely to save you money.

Stipulate that only local & seasonal produce (including sustainable fish) must be   used and give a list of suppliers to your caterers.

Ask caterers to provide fewer options and more portion sizes.

Don’t rush to fill buffets if they are not full to the brim

Track your leftovers and reduce stock orders accordingly in the future

Talk to your Audience

Plan in advance (we can do that one! Surely!) – ask attendees whether they will buy food prior to your event. Planning menus early will also make ordering local produce more affordable.

Communicate your sustainable efforts – This is something to SHOUT ABOUT!

Make it Fun!

Create an event around food waste or incorporate it in to an existing event

Show consumers how they can reduce food waste by using leftovers, buying misshapen produce or reducing their food portions – Ugly food should be celebrated! This will also save money.

Getting your Priorities Right

How do we know where to start? Food waste management can seem like hard work, but really it’s down to being motivated to do something good! And how do we do these good things….? Well… it’s simpler than you think!

Adapted from Meeting Change (2015)

The first and most important step we must take is to reduce the supply chain food loss (here come the ugly vegetables again!); we can work with farmers to take the stock that the supermarkets just won’t.

The reduction in food waste comes from some of the initiatives mentioned above such as reducing portion sizes and using leftovers; perhaps on day 3 of your event serve soup  – an easy way to use up excess food.

Donating and re-purposing are the next steps to include donations to homeless shelters, (be careful with legislation) and as animal feed, and serving uneaten food at special events banquets.

Let’s start giving value back to our food! 

History Makers, Money Savers, Delicious Flavours & Celebrators!

So does it actually work? Here are some events which are making history through saving money and creating scrumptious meals all the while implementing sustainable food waste management strategies.

Shambala Festival – Food Facts!

Shambala Festival (2016) is a vibrant, innovative and award winning green festival based in Northamptonshire hosting a wide variety of world class entertainment. So what are they doing so well?

Nothing but…

Sustainable Fish

Organic Milk

Fair Trade Tea & Coffee

Free Range Meat and Eggs (Minimum Standard)

Reusable Cup Schemes

Excess food collected by Eighth Plate for re-use

All simple changes that you too can make and SHOUT TO THE WORLD…. Hello Green Award! 

Feeding the 5000 – A Flagship Campaign

Feedback is an environmental organisation campaigning to end food waste, getting governments, businesses, a whole host of organisations and the general public to join in the fight!

Feeding the 5000 is Feedback’s flagship campaign and event which entails a delicious communal feast made entirely from food which would have otherwise been destined for landfill… incredibly fun and at the same time spreading a powerful message!

And it doesn’t just stop in the UK! Find out where your nearest feeding the 5000 event and other Feed Back campaigns are here. Join the food waste pledge today.

Feed Back (2016)

Green with envy? It’s your turn to make a difference! …So I urge you to celebrate the ugly, by simply creating beautiful food from our leftovers… come on we’re events managers! We can do anything!  But what will you do in the battle against food waste?

Interested in finding out more….?  Visit the below:

Event Manager Blog (2014) How to be a Food-Waste Fighting Event Superhero. Available at: http://www.eventmanagerblog.com/event-food-waste-tips (Accessed 05 February 2016

Feed Back (2016) Feeding the 5000. Available at: http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/feeding-the-5000/ (Accessed 26 February 2016).

Meeting Change (2015) Food Waste Solutions for Events. Available at: https://meetingchange.wordpress.com/blog/ (Accessed 05 February 2015).

Shambala Festival (2016) Available at: http://www.shambalafestival.org/essential-info/ (Accessed 25 February 2016).

….Also Useful!

Eighth Plate – Turning excess food in to new opportunities


Gov.UK – The legal bit! – How food businesses must dispose of food and former food stuffs


Green City Events – Tips on Eco Event Management


Meeting Change – Reducing food waste at events


MSC Sustainable Fish List – Very handy!


Powerful Thinking Report  – All things sustainable for festivals


Wrap  – UK Events Road Map: A 2020 Vision



Hi Jessie and students at U of Gloucestershire,
Thanks for bringing up this important issue for sustainable events. Please let me know if I can help with your studies.
Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, MBA
President, Meeting Change

Hi Mariela, thank you for your comment and for your kind offer of help! I would be interested to know what your thoughts are on my blog, and more specifically how easy you think it is for events managers to adopt some of the initiatives I have suggested.


Joanna Schwemin says:

This blog is very informative and an enjoyable read, food waste is a widely known issue however I have never before thought about the effects of food waste at events, particularly large ones such as festivals. The idea of using local producers is a good one as it not only creates sustainable methods of providing food it also gives back to the local economy meaning more local people will want to be involved. the idea of reusing left overs to make things such as a soup is one that had never crossed my mind but shows how simple it is to prevent the food waste even in large events as again I had only thought of this in a domestic setting. Also your comments on celebrating the ugly food is something I believe will make a huge difference in regards to waste if this happened as people are almost obsessed with only eating foods that look perfect yet they’re often exactly the same in taste. The links and other information on events that happen are also very informative and interesting for further reading.

Thanks for your comment Joanna! I’m pleased to hear that you believe that we can all make changes in simple ways and have a great impact on the wider community which is the key point I want to get across here

Jasmclennan says:

I love how informative the facts are throughout this blog, it makes us as consumers think in a different way. Initatives such as letting chefs who are passionate about sustainability could make a huge difference to the amount of waste events produce

Thanks for your comment Jas; I think we all need a change in thinking as consumers, as you say and the influence between industry chefs and events managers/ every day consumers are great places to start for events!

Hi Jessie. I think this is such an important topic and you have highlighted the issues really well! The suggestions you have made make a lot of sense and would actually save events money!

Hi Rachel, I couldn’t agree more! My aim was to make this topic simple and provide easy solutions to food waste management, and one of the benefits from this is definitely a reduction in cost.

Harriet Gibbons says:

I really enjoyed reading your blog, Jessie. I think you’ve raised some really important points. Personally, I was shocked to read that 1/3 of all edible food produced for human consumption is wasted each year! Your blog highlights how easy it can be to make events more sustainable; even if it’s something simple like championing ugly food and turning it into something great. And instead of us seeing sustainable events as something that is costly and time-consuming, you’ve emphasised the many advantages associated with welcoming sustainability and just how trouble-free sustainable catering can be achieved.

Hi Harriet, thanks for reading my blog and for leaving a comment. It’s great that you agree how simple it is for us as individuals to change our behaviours to have an impact on the wider community; and I am pleased that you can see the vast benefits which these small changes could make, particularly in sustainable catering!


Annie Graham says:

Hi Jessie, this made an interesting read. I like the way in which you have made the sustainability you talk about seem so attainable. This is clearly an important issue with which progress could, it seems, fairly easily be made. I especially liked the idea about ‘ugly’ fruit/vegetables; your ideas make a lot of sense!

Hi Annie, I’m glad you liked my blog and can see how easy the changes are to make!

Kate says:

A great blog highlighting one of the major issues that needs to be addressed in order to tackle climate change. After reading the content, it appears to be a lot easier than most perceive to stop wasting food, (even as part of a business).

There are businesses out there that are allready working towards a sustainable future through their catering initiatives and its great to see its being considered and implemented in the world of events management too.

P.S. Love the ugly veg!!!

Hi Kate, thanks for your comment! I’m really pleased you can see how easy it is to stop food waste (pleased you love the ugly veg too!)

Hi Jessie,

Great information and awesome blog to read! I completely agree with you. Food is a big part of my life and i hate food waste!! I think this is a huge problem that needs addressing in order to minimise food waste in the future. Interesting to see your points on it.

Hi Felicity, thanks for your comment! It’s definitely one of the biggest problems we have in terms of making sure our futures are sustainable, and I think if businesses can start to take these initiatives they will provide good examples for their consumers.

Hi Jessie,

I agree with all the points you have made and think that more events should take on board what can be done to combat food waste. Providing event managers and event organisations can work with attendees to combat the wasting of food then the world will be a better place!

Hi Luke, thanks for your comment. I agree events managers need to start working more with their attendees to highlight what can be done.

Amy Louise says:

Hi Jessie, I hate wasting food at home when cooking. But had never thought of it on such a wide scale. I think its great that you have chosen to write and raise awareness on such an important issue. I love the idea of events using local quality produce and this would encourage me more to buy and try the food at the event. I am all for eating in season produce. I think many other consumers would have a similar view to myself.

Hi Amy, thanks for your comment! I agree with you strongly. From a consumer perspective I too am drawn to local produce, and I certainly think this can generate competition between businesses.

Hannah Lucas says:

Hi Jessie.

Fantastic and interesting read. Food production has considerable environmental impacts. Sustainable food is not just about considering the distance that food travels from field to plate, it is the food we buy that can have a big impact on health and the local economy too. I completely agree that it is important to remember when choosing food supplies, to ask where and how food was grown and processed.

By making carefully researched and informed purchasing decisions will aid in buying products and services with the knowledge that their environmental impact is minimised.

Thank you Jessie!


Hi Hannah, thanks for your comment and for highlighting the fact that food can contribute considerably to health and the economy, that too of course is what sustainability is about, and we need to bare this in mind in all of our actions as businesses, and as consumers; to consider the social, environmental and financial impacts we have on our communities.

Beth Shaw says:

This was really interesting Jessie! Can’t believe how much food is waste, plus love the idea of using vegetables which are shaped weirdly – as these are quite often wasted!!

Thanks Beth! I’m glad you like the idea!

Matt Birch says:

Having done an Events degree before working for a food box delivery company, it still shocks me how much food goes to waste just in the consumer market. The points you raise about strangely shaped veg is my main gripe these days. Supermarkets have created these unrealistic expectations of what our veg should look like which has actually created more waste in my eyes. The problem is, that whilst odd shaped veg is absolutely no different in quality, people are put off by the shape.
Coming back to your comments about reusing as compost or animal feed, why do you think there has been a big commercial move to compost on the site? Most festivals take place on a farm, these farms need compost to revive the earth yet they won’t compost all of the leftover food? Sadly it is down to a business point of view that it doesn’t make monetary sense and that’s where the problem lies at the moment.
It was a very good article though and one that tackles a massive consumer wide problem that’s very relevant at the moment.

Hi Matt, thanks for your comment! You raise some interesting points and I completely agree that if more events managers & consumers in general start to go against what the supermarkets are telling them and start listening to local farmers instead we would see a big change in our food waste. I’m not sure why festivals tend not to compost leftover food as I agree it would be a great benefit to the farms they are usually situated on! I think that more businesses need to start to think about the broader positive impacts that they can make to society and to not solely think about money, however as money making is the life blood of any business I think that it will be a long time before we see any big changes in the business world unfortunately. Thanks again for your comments and I’m glad you like the blog!

Alistair Christie says:

A thought provoking read. Interesting to see about the misshaped food – but as a Western society we do tend to eat with our eyes, in addition to our mouths which contributes towards what we waste.

Also, the legal side to donating food can be frustrating. Such a shame to waste food which could be consumed by those who need it.
Although we need not be restricted by that. For example, if a major retailer such as, ‘M&S’, can donate their surplus food, then there is hope that events Managers can follow similar directives using similar companies that, ‘M&S’ use. See https://corporate.marksandspencer.com/plan-a/our-stories/about-our-initiatives/food-surplus for further information.

Hi Alistair, thank you for your comment and for the link provided which demonstrates perfectly what I think more supermarkets and retail outlets need to be doing! I agree that we do eat with our eyes and it’s an important part of the food industry, however for restaurant meals which use these otherwise wasted products in soups for example, this won’t make a difference to the way the vegetable looks, only tastes.

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