Cutting our carbon emissions and the impact we have on the environment around us is critical. For schools, the mission is arguably much more personal than many other sectors - it is, after all, the children they teach and nurture that will be affected by our actions for decades to come.
The challenge of tackling climate change in schools has many layers. At its core, a school or trust’s environmental strategy needs to identify the key causes of carbon emissions at the school - such as building construction and maintenance, the technology they use, transportation, and food.
The impact schools make, however, has to go further. Education settings have, by their very nature, a huge influence over a child’s learning, and so have a responsibility to teach their pupils about climate change and the actions they can take to help protect our planet.
As the government’s Sustainability and Climate Change strategy states: “A green, sustainable education estate that is resilient to the impacts of climate change will normalise and inspire young people to live sustainable lives, with impact felt widely in their families and communities.”
For many, the question of how to successfully achieve this - particularly as funding becomes tight and resources are stretched - remains.
School food and catering is perhaps one of the highest impact areas. Not only do schools have to ensure high levels of resourcing for the service - staff, electrical equipment and white goods and, of course, the food itself - but the potential of food wastage is high.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the ways in which schools can ensure their catering is environmentally friendly, helping them to cut down their emissions and reduce resource waste.
To truly achieve sustainable catering, it is important to identify the sources of potential risk. This will cover your technology, your staffing levels, and the food itself (including where it is sourced from and how long it needs to be stored).
1. Let’s start with technology.
Currently, many schools run traditional catering systems with multiple large POS units that require a constant power source. Already, the picture looks bleak, with high production requirements and consistent energy consumption across multiple locations.
However, this system also requires a data centre, likely physically located and itself consuming large quantities of energy. In fact, according to data from the International Energy Agency, data centres consume approximately 200 terawatt-hours (TWHh) of electricity globally - that’s 1% of total electricity demand, contributing 0.3% of all global CO2 emissions.
Fortunately, modern technology offers a solution in the form of the cloud. By switching to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), cloud-based technology solutions, schools do away with the clunky and high-cost data centres by storing all of their data virtually - massively reducing carbon emissions.
Using SaaS also means you can switch out large, out-dated POS units for smaller, portable smart technology, such as a tablet - which can be charged, moved between multiple different locations easily without ever losing connection, and reused for multiple purposes.
2. Eliminating food waste.
Food waste is a huge environmental issue. Worryingly, research carried out by WRAP found that the levels of food waste in the UK roughly equates to £19 billion worth of decomposing food in landfill - which in turn generates 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the equivalent of 10 million cars, through a process called anaerobic decomposition.
This makes eliminating food waste in schools a number one priority. To do this effectively, schools need to be able to accurately predict the number of children accessing a school meal each day - and this is even more effective if schools can also generate an insight into the popularity of the food they serve.
The way this is achieved is through data. Many catering systems are capable of capturing huge amounts of data from each lunch service, but it is critical that these systems allow schools to access and use it without significant manual intervention or jumping through technical loops.
We’re already seen how much of an impact the storage of data can have, and how to overcome this using cloud-based technology. Fortunately, such applications can also be equipped with reporting tools, which allow users to analyse data, establish trends and patterns, and create customised reports to help them manage resources and eliminate food waste effectively.
3. Managing your resources effectively.
Like the task of eliminating food waste, effective resource management (like staffing at individual locations) comes down to one thing; data.
Without it, the level of resource you commit to any lunch service will be an educated guess, at best, and you’ll undoubtedly run some level of wastage. By using your data to analyse current school meal trends (such as the number of pupils accessing hot meals, the ratio of hot and cold meals sold, and the popularity of certain items), you can often accurately predict the level of demand on any given day. Need more staff on the hot food counter? Sorted. Need to purchase more sandwiches and juice drinks? Done.
It’s worth noting that buying patterns change, so analysing one set of data once is not going to be enough for very long. For instance, it’s likely that pupils are accessing more hot meals in winter, and less in summer - but by how much? And does the prospect of a Christmas dinner change that?
To be able to respond quickly and effectively, it’s a good idea to review your data and what this tells you about capacity requirements at regular intervals.
Fighting climate change is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges we have today, and schools play a critical role. Key to meeting this challenge is the ability to make the right decisions at the right time - and doing so requires the right technology and accurate data.
That’s where Till comes in.
Till is a cloud-based, SaaS solution, making it much more environmentally friendly from the outset - no more large hardware units to be manufactured and maintained, causing much greater emissions to be produced.
Instead, Till runs on tablets, a much smaller and flexible technology that’s easier to maintain and recycle at the end of its lifespan. And, as an added bonus, it makes initial set-up and maintenance costs substantially lower, making it one of the most budget friendly options around.
What’s more, Till allows schools to easily and quickly produce customised reports in real-time, giving you the insight you need to make the right choices at the right time. You can even free-up staff time and alleviate capacity issues with Till’s self-checkout mode.
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