By Pete Hemingway, SRA New Business and Digital Marketing

The SRA’s training programme has moved from strength to strength, bolstered in recent months with official TUCO training status. With recent events at the University of Edinburgh, St John’s College, Cambridge and Manchester Metropolitan University, the number of universities sustainability trained is rising and there is  a catalogue of events planned for the near future.

Tasked with live tweeting and photographing a half-day session at the London School of Economics, I settled in after my third cup of coffee, as many pastries and got typing, only to be distracted by the metaphorical knowledge bombs about soy plantations and dynamite fishing. Before I knew it I was as much a part of the session as the trainees and took away plenty to digest afterwards.

The day was split into three sessions, handily matching the three pillars of the SRA’s sustainability framework, Sourcing, Society and Environment. Martina and Yeshna, two SRA Account Managers-cum-Trainers covered seasonality, certifications and cattle, fishing, fair-trade and farming, and a host of other alliterative triplets.

The trainees were keenly involved from the start, eager to discuss projects in their own departments, compare notes and ask questions to test our trainers. The conversation flourished organically, quashed only by the time.

The first knowledge test came in the form of a menu spattered with unseasonal, endangered, unethical and unhealthy options – the type of menu that makes your skin crawl rather than your mouth water. We set to work picking it apart, swapping unsustainable farmed tiger prawns for Scottish langoustines, frying for baking, white chocolate for its darker, healthier cousin.

The true value of the SRA’s training became evident as chefs, restaurateurs, procurement and food development managers all began to discuss and understand how the choices they make in the kitchen and with their suppliers have far reaching consequences and relate to every part of the business.

Moving through the framework we covered the environmental impact of our buying, cooking and eating habits. My colleagues, Martina  and Yeshna delved into the importance of efficient supply chain logistics, monitoring energy and water usage and wasted no time in getting to the heart of recycling, landfill and food waste management.

Like some of our contract caterer Members, university catering departments can find energy and water management a challenge. Whilst utilities are (often) managed by a separate department, sub-meters can be a save-all, but can also be “eye-wateringly expensive!” as one trainee exclaimed. Our trainers were quick to provide alternatives and best practice techniques, emphasising the importance of passing on the day’s learnings to their colleagues.

The last and shortest section covered the Society pillar. Healthy eating and treating people fairly ranking highly among university students, our trainees were all ears for tips and tricks on responsible marketing and communicating their sustainability.

Each component of the sustainability framework is undeniably important, or it simply wouldn’t be there. But from my experience, the real value came at the end, when we were able to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and begin to digest all of the elements.

Interested? Learn more about the SRA’s CPD accredited Sustainability training.

The SRA is hosting two further training days titled ‘Sustainability is Your Business’ at University of Reading and St John’s College Cambridge on the 26th and 27th of May respectively.