The hidden environmental consequences of hybrid working

As we adjust to our new normal, Matt Ephgrave, MD at Just Eat for Business explores how the new hybrid way of working impacts sustainable catering and the steps businesses can take to ensure it remains a priority.

In what feels like a lifetime ago, pre-pandemic attitudes towards working were quite predictable. Some companies were embracing the hybrid style that has now become the norm, but for the majority of businesses, the traditional 9-5 in an office still dominated. Fast forward 18-months, and 85% of office workers want to work in a hybrid environment – that’s three to four times as many people working from home than before Covid-19’s existence.

During the pandemic, we were able to quickly pivot our offering to cater for at home workers, delivering meals and treats to teams while they worked remotely, but what was at first a quick fix has actually turned into a huge focus for us as a business. As a result, we need to take a step back and assess the environmental challenges that come with this new approach to catering.

Pre-pandemic, we had already been taking steps to become sustainable, but this was more focused on one large delivery to a single venue. As companies adjust to the new normal, we are seeing businesses put a renewed focus on team culture and reconnecting teams that have been separated during the pandemic. We recently surveyed our customers and found that 81% of businesses believe it’s important to provide parity to in-office and at-home staff and food plays a huge role in this, with two thirds of employees believing eating lunch together as a team develops great work culture.

As a result, businesses are ordering more food than ever before to different locations, and while the motivation is great, this additional delivery creates unavoidable environmental challenges, from transportation through to individual packaging.

So, how can we tackle this?

Reassess what is making the delivery 

With more deliveries naturally comes more miles travelled, so it is really important that business leaders and office caterers ensure they are using the most environmentally friendly method of transport to deliver their goods. The last year has seen a huge rise in the number of e-bike couriers across the country and the environmental benefits are massive.

Our partners Urb-it and Pedal Me have carried out 700+ miles of walking deliveries and 200+ deliveries delivered via e-cargo bike and they are actually as effective, if not better than a traditional van. Pedal Me, for example, can hold the same capacity as a van and a recent study found that electric cargo bikes deliver 60% faster than vans in city centres, dropping off ten parcels an hour, compared with six for vans. It’s a simple switch that can cut carbon emissions by 90%.

Prioritise the packaging

With more packages being sent out, there is a renewed focus on the packaging being used. The industry has already made some great strides in tackling single use plastic – back in 2018 we partnered with a brilliant company called Green Man Packaging to provide our venders with sustainable containers for their orders and over the course of the pandemic we have also introduced new recyclable cardboard delivery boxes to continue to cut down our carbon emissions. But there is always more we could do and we are constantly on the lookout for new ways to reduce packaging waste.

Play close attention to how much you are ordering 

A really simple way to help reduce waste within the catering industry is to order sensibly.  We work really closely with our clients to understand who will be in the office on delivery days so that we can recommend the perfect amount of food to help avoid leftover waste. With everyone still settling into their new routine and coming into offices on different days, monitoring who is coming in and adjusting food orders can go a long way in ensuring the right amount of food is delivered.

Before the pandemic, some fantastic steps had been made across the industry to become more environmentally conscious, but as we adjust to this new way of working, it is important that we continue to strive forward in finding new ways to reduce our carbon footprint. This can only be helped by working closely with our clients and providers to ensure we are doing all we can to protect future generations.