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Monday, July 22, 2024

A Purposeful Approach to Food

Atlasta Catering sets the standard for sustainability 

By Michelle Talsma Everson

To Steve Short, COO and CCO (Chief Culinary Officer) of Atlasta Catering, sustainability isn’t a static achievement or one-time analysis and implementation — it’s an ongoing driver that needs constant attention and analysis. With this in mind, Valley-based Atlasta Catering has become a fully sustainable company — an impressive feat in the hospitality industry. 

“Fifteen years ago, we embarked on the process of becoming a zero-landfill company, which affects each kitchen and facility we operate, in addition to each event we cater,” Short explains. “This was a logistical challenge that took about six years to fully achieve and, for the last nine years, we’ve operated as such.”

What inspired Short and his team to get started on their sustainable journey? 

“Listening to the book Stirring it Up by Gary Hirshberg about Stonyfield Farm’s yogurt in 2008 started me on this journey of sustainability,” Short says. “It gave me a tangible example of a business operating successfully while also operating mindfully.” 

In the last thirteen years, Atlasta has diverted all its food waste from landfills and donated well over one million pounds of food – the equivalent of 600,000 meals – according to the company. 

“Every last item that traditionally would be contributing to the landfill has been analyzed and either diverted or re-sourced for an alternative — something reusable, recyclable, or compostable,” Short says. “Truly, the biggest challenge for any hospitality/food company is the diversion of food waste — whether it is a result of trim (watermelon rinds for example), food over ordered or over prepped, or food left on a guest’s plate.”

He adds that finding reliable and predictable means to divert food waste — through composting and supporting not-for slaughter animal farms — and redirecting food that cannot be used (over-prepped or over-ordered) to the food insecure remain the most tangibly impactful processes in the company’s multi-faceted sustainability philosophy.

“While waste diversion and operating as zero-landfill is a major component of our program, our entire company operates through an over-arching lens of sustainability that influences our purchasing, our food philosophy, our energy choices, water usage, our carbon footprint, our cleansing agents, our workplace culture, and our community, both through indirect and direct impact,” Short continues.  

To maximize results, the company’s sustainability efforts are led by experts and research. Their academic and scientific partnerships include teaching senior level students at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in the areas of business, ethics, and sustainability. Short has been featured at national sustainability conferences, served as a member of the ASU Wellness Committee, and is involved in ASU’s food purchasing and sourcing as a member of the Sustainable Food Task Force.

“Our approach to sustainability is not limited to our on-premise kitchens. It travels with us to each event we execute across the Valley,” Short explains. “While the client and guest may not realize what is happening, every decision prior to arriving on site has been influenced by our sustainability guidelines, and every action on location is dictated by our sustainability framework.”

Sustainability has become a way of life at Atlasta and is engrained in almost every detail. Beyond energy, water, solid waste, and packaging, Atlasta also utilizes software and technology to minimize paper waste, and menus are engineered to reduce overall carbon footprints, greenhouse gas emissions, supplier radius, and more. They also require as much transparent sourcing from vendors as possible and incorporate competitive wages for employees to build a sustainable work environment.

“Our entire team is made up of individuals who realize the importance of our methods and how each micro-decision impacts our overall success, by any measure,” Short explains. “Sustainability is a way for each of us to make an impact, make a difference, and to take pride in our work. Sustainability is a part of our culture and ultimately a driver of morale.”

To Short and his team, the company’s mission is both personal and professional. 

“Personally, sustainability was a path that reconnected me to food and my family’s long history in farming and hospitality,” he says. “It provided me with an ‘a-ha!’ moment. I could reimagine every process and every decision to align with my own values, and it gave me a challenge —  turning a hospitality business into a sustainably-minded operation that could affect change.”

Short adds that he sees sustainability as a responsibility in all industries.

 “I believe every business has not just the ability, but the responsibility, to deeply evaluate its processes and make impactful changes. We are long past the age of greenwashing; customers are savvy and deserve transparency.”

“Sustainability provided me with the structure and ability to achieve functionality in a traditionally dysfunctional and wildly wasteful industry,” he continues. “The process-driven aspect, the constant evaluation needed, and the metrics for accountability, impacted and still impact every last facet of our business.”

To learn more, visit www.atlastacatering.com.


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