Panellists Reveal Distinctive Opinions on the Topic of Sustainability at Partners In Purchasing Seminar

On Thursday 9th October, panellists exchanged views on critical factors within the subject of sustainability in the hospitality industry, exposing various perspectives on this fundamental issue.  The debate, which was hosted by Partners In Purchasing, the premiere procurement agency in the UK, took place at Deutsche Bank.  It was attended by industry professionals who listened and participated in the lively discussion, centred around corporate social responsibility in the current economic climate.  What came to light is that sustainability is a complex concern, being tackled by different approaches, depending on the individual nature of companies.

Chaired by David Clarke, CEO of Best Western Hotels and chairman of the BHA Sustainable Forum, the first question posed to the panel was, “What does corporate responsibility mean to a company?”  Peter Davis of Ethical Corporation, who has over fifteen years of experience in the area of corporate responsibility, believes that, “It works well when companies focus on operational or commercial factors such as who the suppliers are and whether they are operating safely.  The key solution underpinning future sustainability is to incorporate procedures alongside the specific requirements of the business.”  Jake Saul Watkins, chef proprietor of Michelin-starred restaurant JSW, pinpointed that local sourcing is a primary concern for his business; “products taste better sourced locally.”  In a different snapshot of opinion, forager Miles Irving instigated that sustainability is something that companies tend to opt in and opt out of; “We are responsible for the influence and effects that we have; we must start from a social and environmental responsibility”, and, therefore, believes that these factors must be permanently engrained in a company’s repertoire to make a big difference.  Hamish Campbell of R-Oil, producer of rape seed oil, spoke about the role of awareness; “I’ve used it (corporate responsibility) as a marketing tool, but when I go to shows I use it as education.  From my point of view they (marketing and education) work together.”

The debate took a political stance when the task of educating people and enlightening decision-makers within businesses on the corporate responsibility agenda was deliberated.  Peter believes re-engineering the way in which the government does business so that it is easier for companies to function at a corporate responsibility level is the way forward and suggested companies should ; “Work out what you want it to do for your business.  If the current economic climate means that the flannel gets dropped, then all the better.”  Hamish supported that the answers lie with the government and said that, “Ministers are out of touch with reality when it comes to farming and the red tape issue must be re-evaluated.”  Contrastingly, Miles disagreed that the power lies with the government and argued, “I don’t really believe in the government as the lotus of power anymore.  What leads public attitudes is business.  I think the ball’s in our court; I think it’s absolutely incredible what Jamie Oliver’s done.  The time is right for business people to step in and help.”

Managing Director of Partners In Purchasing and host, Diana Spellman, summed up the debate by concluding, “The responsibility lies with us all to demonstrate transparent and traceable selection of products and services.” Therefore, despite the varying and often conflicting points of view on sustainability and how it should be implemented, the panellists were united on the motive that a combined effort on the part of the government, schools, businesses, marketing and the media to publicise and advise on sustainability must be made for the future of the industry.

Positive response on the issues raised was expressed from attendees at the end of the seminar.  Richard Harrison, Finance Director for Harrison Catering Services Ltd similarly commented, “The message I took away is that you cannot focus on one aspect of CR without considering the impact on other issues.  There are no right answers, but it is incumbent on us to consider the wider implications of our decisions in the pursuit of commercial success.” Patrick from RDA Organic praised Partners In Purchasing for their commitment to publicising the issue of sustainability; “It was fantastic to see such a positive turnout at a time when everyone has so much on their plates. Great to see PIP taking the initiative in organising the debate, to fuel discussions in trying to achieve a holistic solution.”  Phillip Nash, Chairman of Graysons Restaurants spoke about the debate in light of the present economic conditions; “I found the event interesting; first the subject itself which, given current economic conditions, it will be interesting to see how high on the corporate agenda it remains as business survival priorities come to the fore, plus a really fascinating and diverse mix of panel, from forager to farmer and a chef in between!”

Recent reports suggest that the industry as a whole, is not implementing effective practices for the future of hospitality.  Partners In Purchasing have, therefore, worked alongside Peter Davis in producing a pack on how your business can benefit from employing processes to improve corporate responsibility.  To obtain your copy, contact Anthony Adams at Partners In Purchasing.