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The National Restaurant Association’s newly launched “Conserve: Solutions for Sustainability” initiative is good stuff, but operators will have to embrace its dictates and more in a big hurry if they want to get the catering contract at this year’s Democratic National Convention. A peek at the Denver 2008 Convention Planning Committee’s RFP for a Catering Vendor spells out hyper-rigid “green” standards that could become the model for big events everywhere. One example: the Democrats want servers to walk, bike, carpool or take the bus to and from any event they work. No single occupancy vehicles!

The idea behind the NRA’s big push is to provide informational tools that will both educate and inspire restaurant operators to adopt green practices in their restaurants. All the material is located on a new website, Initially focused on energy, water and construction issues, the site is expected to grow over time to include other aspects of sustainability, including recycling, packaging, cleaning supplies and food and beverages.

“We are launching ‘Conserve’ to raise awareness and provide resources and information about eco-friendly practices to the entire restaurant and foodservice community,” says Dawn Sweeney, president/c.e.o. of the NRA. “We believe this initiative will prove to be a great step toward an environmentally sound future while preserving the vitality of our industry.”

We have a pretty good idea who’ll be visiting this site first: Every foodservice operator in Denver who’s responding to the request for proposal to bid on becoming the Denver 2008 Convention Planning Committee’s catering vendor. Right now, the committee is in the proposal evaluation period. But it’s worth taking a gander at some of the non-negotiable “green” stipulations that will be part of any deal. They illustrate what foodservice customers with green sensibilities now (or will soon) expect from the foodservice operators with whom they do business.

Here’s what the Democrats want.

“In support of the DNC’s ‘green’ mission to planning an environmentally responsible convention, preference will be given to vendors that have a proven commitment to ‘green’ practices and that consider and minimize the life-cycle environmental impacts of catering.

The Vendor must demonstrate experience with greening events and/or willingness to support the Green priorities of the Planning Committee and Mayor’s Office by making every effort to accomplish the following:

1) Offer, highlight and promote food that meets with the Greening Initiative’s Lean and Green Criteria:

2) Lean
a) Half of the meal (or 50%) of the plate is made up of fruits and/or vegetables.
b) A colorful meal - include at least three of the following five colors: red, green,
yellow, blue/purple, and white. (Garnishes not included.)
c) No items are to be fried.

3) Green
a) 70% or more of ingredients by precooked weight are certified organic
and/or grown/raised in Colorado.
b) 70% or more of ingredients by pre-cooked weight are fresh and not pre-

4) Use re-usable service ware such as china, porcelain, glassware, and metal flatware.
Use cloth napkins and tablecloths instead of paper.

5) When absolutely necessary to use a disposable product, make sure that it is either made out of recycled and recyclable plastic or that it is compostable bioware. Be consistent in your selection so that the waste stream is easier to manage after the event.

6) Recycle or compost all trash that can be recycled or composted.

7) Donate all food waste to local food banks that can be donated. Compost all food that cannot be donated.

8) Do not serve plastic bottled water. Serve tap water in large dispensers or in pitchers to be served upon request.

9) Encourage work staff to take alternative transportation such as walking, riding a bike, carpooling, or taking public transportation. Discourage all single occupancy vehicles.

10) After your event, calculate and offset its carbon footprint using the online mechanism provided by the Planning Committee. For the purpose of this modest investment, you should factor in a line item to your budget.

11) Communicate your green activities to your attendees creatively while generating the least amount of waste. Be sure that any necessary documents, signage or banners are made of highest content possible post-consumer recycled content and are able to be re-used or re-purposed.

12) Work with the Planning Committee greening staff to document and measure your efforts.”

Whew! It’s quite a list, particularly the micromanaging of food content and presentation. We wonder: How many restaurants and/or catering outfits in Denver are set up to perform their service within restrictive guidelines like these?
And how many will want to? There are a lot of hoops to jump through here, given the amount of actual business that’s up for grabs. The 28-page RFP covers four parties taking place simultaneously on Sunday, Aug. 24 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Guests counts are, respectively, 197, 105, 164, 150. The committee wants a menu that includes passed heavy hors d’oeuvres and hors d’oeuvres stations, action stations and dessert and coffee/tea/beverage stations. We can foresee some operators taking a pass on this one and hoping to land some less-restrictive parties during convention week in Denver.

However, this laundry list of “green” stipulations might give you an idea about what some clients may require, or at least inquire about, in the future. If you want to be chosen to cater these parties, check out the NRA website to see what’s involved.