How to Plan for Sustainable Catering

Beware of common misconceptions in green F&B

More Tips
• It's not always possible to employ reusable place settings at events, so consider alternatives such as cornstarch cups that are 100 percent compostible.

• Instead of offering mountains of mini packaged items like salt, pepper and sugar, provide replenishable shakers.

• For more ways to provide green F&B, visit the German Convention Bureau's website,

Meetings around the globe are becoming more environmentally friendly, as is the food that fuels them. While green catering is an extremely promising and rapidly expanding area, it's also rife with misconceptions to be aware of and work around.

What can you do to feed your attendees more sustainably without falling into some of the most common pitfalls? Here are a few tips:

Earthy vs. GreenSay your buttoned-up board wants to celebrate a year of strong business growth at an elegant, upscale event but has also asked, for the first time, that the catering be sustainable. With a breathtaking venue and sophisticated entertainment planned, the food and presentation will need to match.

Your F&B contact suggests an earthy theme of bamboo bowls, palm leaves, vegetable dips, etc., in a well-intended effort to meet green standards. But he or she is making a common error -- confusing earthy with green -- which can lead to a big disconnect with the board's objectives.

Like any event element, ecological catering should capture the spirit of the target group. In fact, elegant fine china dinnerware can be just as "green" as bamboo.
Upshot: Understand why sustainable F&B was requested, as well as the desired ambience of the event. These details should serve to guide your catering choices.

Is Fish Truly Organic?You want to pamper your attendees with salmon canapés. And since it is organic salmon, you figure you're in the clear. Well, you might be headed for troubled waters.

Farm-raised salmon can be disease-infested and transfer disease to its wild cousins. In fact, the spread of disease might lead to a serious depletion of the world's wild salmon stocks, according to studies. Even organic prawns, crabs and pangasius (a mild-flavored white fish, often called striped catfish, that is one of the top 10 fish consumed in the United States) are not widely recommended.

To be on the safe side, before selecting any type of fish or seafood for your menus, check out the World Wildlife Foundation's informative guides at They provide insights on making more solid, earth-friendly seafood choices. 

The Devil Is in the Supply-Chain DetailsYou know your favorite caterers, and they have their go-to suppliers, but for today's greener and healthier menus, it's important to dig even deeper. Where does that potato used in a favorite dish really come from? Where and how is it grown, packed and shipped? The carbon footprint of food items should be a factor in providing sustainable F&B.

A recent food-poisoning scandal in German schools, which was traced to tainted strawberries from Asia, underscores how little we know about the origin of our food. A growing desire to get more connected to the food we eat and serve is driving the global trend toward farm-to-table dining for business, leisure and home.
According to German organic catering expert Anja Lindner, "It is essential to assess the suppliers, products, and energy structures behind the food being used for catering to understand its green value. This can help minimize surprises."

Laura d'Elsa serves as regional director, USA/Canada, at the German Convention Bureau's New York City office.