Category Archives: Corporate Responsibility

HR Focus: Recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Every October, the entire country turns pink. While it may be pretty, wearing pink or offering pink products does little to educate employees about breast cancer or raise money for the cause. In October, which has become the nation’s annual observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, your company should develop a plan to provide information and education to employees on breast cancer prevention and early detection, as well as to find meaningful ways to raise funds for breast cancer research. Participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month can help align your company with a worthy cause if done properly.

Here are some impactful ways your company can get involved this October:

Provide breast cancer prevention information and educational materials to employees and clients and their families.

Advocate for the cause by being proactive in helping employees take charge of their health. Connecting your company to breast cancer prevention can bring good will to your brand while providing useful information for women. Create a handout (with breast cancer facts, risk factors, mammogram information, and how to perform a self-exam) that employees can take home and use. Or add your logo to these pocket sliders (small interactive slide charts in which you match up the bullet point and view information and tips in the cutout window) available at  https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/2317504/Pinktober%20Promos.pdf?t=1537766091314.

Share breast cancer facts and prevention tips on your company’s social media.

Get creative on Facebook and Instagram by sharing photos and memes with prevention tips and breast cancer facts for the entire month of October.

Share breast cancer and nutrition facts.

There is a lot of misinformation about the causes of breast cancer, especially when it comes to diet. As a food service company, clarifying the connections of breast cancer and diet can have a big impact. Share the facts through educational materials, blogs, newsletters, and social media. A good place to start is https://breast360.org/topics/2017/01/01/breast-cancer-and-nutrition-facts-and-myths/.

Share survivor stories.

Sharing breast cancer survivor stories and photos is also a powerful way to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you have employees or clients who are willing to share their breast cancer stories, include their photos and stories in your company’s blog and/or newsletter with links to your social media.

Organize a company team for a Breast Cancer Walk/Run or other event.

There are numerous Breast Cancer Walks/Runs and other fundraising events happening in October all over the country. Find a local event and organize a company team to get involved by fundraising and participating the day of the event. At the event, your team can wear t-shirts with your company name and logo and give away promotional products to promote your partnership.

 

 

 

HR Focus: Office Gardening

As this blog discusses frequently, access to fresh and healthy foods can boost workplace morale and productivity. USConnect’s fresh vending and Bistro To Go!™ micro markets provide team members with many fresh and healthy options. But what if you could provide even fresher options, like tomatoes that people can eat right off the vine or salads made from fresh-picked lettuces?

Workplace gardening is a growing trend, especially among businesses that prioritize employee wellness. Gardens can feature an array of plants—like colorful flowers, whispering grasses, and sweet-smelling lavender—that soothe the senses of all who visit it. Of course, many workplace gardens focus primarily on team members’ taste buds, growing such produce as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, and herbs. Employees can enjoy fresh-off-the-vine produce and revel in the simple sweetness of just-picked flavors.

Apart from the benefit of the fresh-grown produce, the act of working together on a gardening project provides the kind of teamwork and camaraderie for a fraction of the cost of expensive off-site, team-building retreats. Gardening provides natural shared tasks and rewards, especially after a few weeks when team members can start seeing tangible results of their hard work.

Further, the very act of working outside can have significant benefits for health and productivity.  According to Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, spending time outside has five distinct positive effects:

  • Increased vitamin D levels
  • Increased activity levels
  • Elevated sense of happiness and well-being
  • Improved concentration
  • Faster healing

A workplace garden can be as simple as a raised bed next to the parking lot or as grand as an acre of off-site farmland. In urban areas, “green roofs” provide the extra benefit of helping to offset global climate change. Employee interest and satisfaction in workplace gardens tends to be very high. Why not start one today?

Diversity in the Workplace: Honoring Ramadan

This week marks the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest Muslim month. During the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, observant Muslims all over the world commemorate the revelation of the Quran to Muhammed by both feasting as fasting. Islam is the world’s second-largest religion; what do HR departments and employees need to know about this important holiday?

Diversity in the Workplace - Ramadan

Even during the rest of the year, observant Muslims eat only foods that are halal. Like kosher foods, halal (lawful) rules of Islam prohibit pork, as well as “carnivorous animals, birds of prey, animals without external ears (some birds and reptiles), blood, alcohol, and foods contaminated with any of these.” According to Today’s Dietician, processed food containing ingredients like gelatin, emulsifiers, and enzymes may be unlawful for some Muslim consumers, so providing nutrition information is especially important.

The timing changes every year. Ramadan goes by a lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar that is most widely used in secular society. The holiday starts the day after the new moon of the ninth month, and ends with the new moon of the tenth month. In 2018, Ramadan starts on May 15. In 2019, it will start on May 5. To be culturally sensitive to this changing holiday, it’s a good idea to keep track of when it will fall each year.

Observant Muslims fast during the day during the whole month of Ramadan. Before dawn, Muslims eat a meal called suhoor, and they break their fast after dusk with a meal called iftar. Be aware, if any colleagues or employees are observing Ramadan, that it would be insensitive to offer them lunch or snacks during the day.

Iftar is often a social meal. While specific food customs differ around the globe, iftar often involves a gathering in the home or a location central to the community. Want to try some Ramadan treats? The Kitchn suggests the following tasty treats from around the world:

  • Dahi vadey: Lentil dumplings that are soaked in a spicy yogurt sauce (India)
  • Haleem: A slow-cooked stew of meat, bulgur wheat, and lentils (Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia)
  • Chicken 65: Spicy, bite-sized pieces of chicken that are marinated and deep-fried (India)
  • Ramazan Kebabi: A dish made with lamb, onions, yogurt, and pita bread (Turkey)
  • Ful medammes: Fava beans cooked with garlic and spread on bread (North Africa)
  • Paomo: A bread and mutton soup (China)
  • Chapatis: Unleavened flatbread that is rolled up with vegetables and meats (India and Pakistan)
  • Fattoush: A salad made of vegetables and pita bread (Lebanon and Arab countries)
  • Konafah: A pastry made with phyllo dough and cheese (Middle East)
  • Kolak: A fruit dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandanus leaf. Fruits, such as jackfruit or banana, or mung beans are added (Indonesia).

In our increasingly globalized world, it’s more important than ever to be respectful of all traditions, and USConnect is glad to help.

Diversity in the Workplace: Observing Lent

February 14 in 2018 was not only Valentine’s Day, but it was also Ash Wednesday, the day in the Christian tradition that signals the beginning of Lent. Representing the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness, Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday that is a time of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice: sacrifice that many Christians observe by eliminating meat for the duration of Lent, especially on Fridays.

Observing Lent

From a food-service perspective, it’s important to provide a greater variety of non-meat options during Lent. In particular, many observant Christians eat significantly more fish during Lent than any other time in the year. According to Gordon Food Service:

  • 26 percent of consumers say they observe Lent.
  • 20 percent of adults say they eat more seafood during Lent.
  • 41 percent say they eat fish instead of meat on Fridays.
  • Seafood sales can surge more than 20 percent during Lent.
  • On Fridays, seafood sales can surge up to 50 percent (as compared to non-Lent Fridays).

Lent is actually responsible for one of McDonald’s most iconic menu items: the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. The Filet-O-Fish was the 1962 brainchild of an early McDonald’s franchisee, Lou Groen, in Cincinnati who saw sales plummet during Lent in an area that was 87 percent Catholic at the time. Despite McDonald’s founder Roy Kroc’s misgivings, Groen introduced the Filet-O-Fish on Good Friday, and it was an instant hit. The Filet-O-Fish remains a Lent menu special to this day, with many people dubbing this the “Filet-O-Fish season.”

To increase your Lenten offerings, fried fish and shrimp are always popular choices. However, since many people are also seeking a more healthful diet, it’s a good idea to offer some baked, steamed, and grilled options as well. Services like USConnect’s fresh food vending or Bistro To Go!™ micro markets offer choices like tuna sandwiches or wraps, smoked salmon, or shrimp salad. Options like these can help people stay healthy and observe Lent at the same time.

Setting up a Workplace Wellness Challenge

Get Fit As A Team!

Uh-oh! With the holidays lurking around the corner and the cold weather making people want to hunker down and eat comfort food, it can be especially difficult to focus on nutrition and fitness. HR departments can make a big difference by creating a health and fitness challenge to help keep employees focused on staying healthy during the holidays. Read on for some tips and tricks for setting up a wellness challenge that works.

Workplace Wellness Challenge

What is a workplace wellness challenge? It’s a fun, community-oriented activity where colleagues compete against each other in a friendly contest. It’s a way to hold each other accountable toward a shared goal of better health, and it can provide that extra boost to help people stay motivated—especially during the holiday season.

Most workplace challenges have users self-report their activities or results, as regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prevent companies from requiring this kind of information. However, wellness challenges work best when participants want to join, not when they’re forced to, so the regulations shouldn’t impact the success of the challenge.

Challenges can tackle any aspect of nutrition and fitness—from avoiding snacks to walking up the stairs every day. Technology can help with organization, communication, and tracking: for instance, people who use fitness trackers can easily connect and compare number of steps or miles covered. People who use the USConnectMe app can easily get access to nutritional data for all the food they purchase, making it easier to track data for calories, fat, protein, fiber, and important nutrients.

Challenges are also a good way to bond with coworkers while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Try organizing monthly healthy potluck lunches or group activities like walking around the building several times a day. Challenges can last a week, a month, or even longer. You may even hold a “pop-up” challenge for one day, challenging co-workers to go a whole day without eating any added sugar (for instance).

The point of wellness challenges is to have fun and stay healthy, not to win a large monetary prize. However, it’s nice to offer an incentive whenever possible. Team t-shirts are a great reminder of the group goal, and gift cards for healthy activities or food are always welcome. For more information, check out these resources from the Society for Human Resource Management, and start your challenge!

Is BPA-Free the Way to Be?

Look at any food packaging, especially in the foodservice industry, and you’re likely to see a lot of plastic. There are many good reasons for the prevalence of plastics; plastics carry bpa-freemuch less weight than aluminum or glass, and plastic packaging can prevent up to 1.7 pounds of food waste for each pound of plastics.

However, plastic packaging brings some significant chemical impacts.  Among these, some of the most troubling come from a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which influence the endocrine system and alter hormonal functions. Cheap, lightweight, and shatterproof, Bisphenol A (BPA) used to be one of the most commonly used plastics for food packaging, appearing in everything from plastic pouches to water bottles to the linings of some canned food. Unfortunately, BPA is one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals; in 2008, the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction found that there is “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”

The US Food and Drug Administration still classifies BPA as safe at its current human exposure level. Nonetheless, pressure from consumers and consumer protection groups has spurred food storage companies to drastically reduce their use of the chemical. This is particularly true for products aimed at infants and young children, like infant formula packaging, baby bottles, and toddler sippy cups, but even many general use products now carry the label “BPA-Free.” In the foodservice industry, both Rubbermaid and Cambro offer BPA-free options.

Unfortunately, just replacing BPA does not appear to have solved the problem of endocrine-disrupting chemicals leaching into food. Scientists currently focus on chemicals having estrogenic activity—activity that mimics, increases, or decreases the body’s naturally-occurring estrogen with synthetic hormones. So while eliminating BPA is a good start and can help raise employee awareness of the dangers of chemical contamination, it is not a panacea. Study after study shows that most plastic products leach estrogenic chemicals into the food and drinks we consume.

Some simple steps can further reduce risks, both for foodservice companies and the customers they serve. Keeping plastics away from heat—boiling water, microwaves, and sunlight—is crucial, as heat accelerates the leaching process. In foodservice kitchens, make sure to heat food only in glass or metal containers, and in office kitchens, offer alternatives for employees to heat their own food. Keep bottled water out of hot cars and sunlight, and educate employees about the potential dangers of keeping food or liquid in plastic for too long.  As always, knowledge is power!

 

 

HR Focus: August Is National Water Quality Month

As summer’s hottest month heats up, the country celebrates National Water Quality Month. This month is a time to educate individuals and companies about steps they can take to protect the country’s sources of fresh water.

national water quality month

State, federal, and local regulations govern the wastewater that companies can dump directly into water supplies. These regulations do not provide perfect protection—witness the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan river—but they prevent companies from deliberately disposing of their waste products into the water.

The more insidious impact, however, comes from the way that people add chemicals to the water supply without even knowing it. This happens through rainwater runoff, when water from rain storms collects in storm drains, bringing with it all the chemicals on buildings and sidewalks that it has encountered along the way. These storm drains then empty into water supplies—still carrying environmental pollutants.

Cities—and the companies that are located there—generate five times more rainwater runoff than forests or fields. The rain washes pollutants like oil, antifreeze, pet waste, fertilizers, and pesticides right into the water supply. To avoid contributing to poor water quality, follow Clean Water Action’s fact sheet:

  1. Don’t use antibacterial soaps or cleaning products.
  2. Don’t put anything except water down storm drains.
  3. Avoid using pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
  4. Choose nontoxic household products whenever possible.

Sometimes water pollution is visible, like in the case of toxic algal blooms. More often, however, poor water quality is not visible to the naked eye. To make sure your office water supply is safe, check where your water comes from with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s “Surf Your Watershed” tool, and buy a water quality testing kit. These standards from the General Services Administration provide good guidelines on making sure your water supply is safe.

Productivity and Nutrition: Making the Connection

It’s not exactly breaking news: nutrition is one of the major factors that impacts employee productivity. One of the seminal works on the topic comes from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which published a study in 2005 linking nutrition to workers’ health and productivity. The report, which took a global perspective on both developing and developed countries, found that poor nutrition can reduce employee productivity up to 20 percent. Both malnutrition and obesity can drastically affect workers’ ability to come to work and perform effectively.

Productivity and Nutrition

More recently, a report from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace found that British companies lose an average  of 27.5 days of productive time per employee per year due to health-related absenteeism and presenteeism. Presenteeism, according to the Harvard Business Review, is when employees show up to work but are not functioning at their optimal levels. Presenteeism is insidious, because unlike absenteeism, it is difficult to detect and even harder to track. Nonetheless, research suggests that it may cost companies up to 10 times more than absenteeism.

Wellness programs may be the answer. Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Brigham Young University, and the Center for Health Research at Healthways suggests that employees who eat healthily and exercise regularly have a 27 percent lower absentee rate and 11 percent higher rate of job productivity than their obese colleagues.

Although companies can’t force employees to maintain healthier lifestyles, they can make it much easier for them to do so. Offering discounts at health clubs and creating pre-, post-, and mid-work exercise groups are great ways to encourage physical activity. And providing healthy food options and detailed nutritional information helps employees make good eating choices. That’s why USConnect’s The Right Choice…For a Healthier You™ program gives employees the information and options they need to make good nutritional decisions.

Employee productivity comes down to the choices of each employee, but armed with the right research and some great food choices, HR departments can improve productivity across the board.

 

 

 

How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

Sustainability Focus: Recycling

Modern materials recycling—converting paper, metal, and plastics into reusable materials—got its start in the 1970s, along with the rise of modern environmentalism. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, and in 1976, Massachusetts received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pilot a curbside collection program for mixed materials collection. By 1992, there were 5,404 curbside recycling programs, and by 2017, these programs—most of which offer single-stream recycling—are nearly ubiquitous in municipal areas.

How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

The aim of recycling programs has always been to recycle more: to divert more waste from landfills. To that end, recycling companies have focused on making it easier to recycle common materials. The accessibility of recycling receptacles makes it just as easy to recycle materials as it is to throw them in a regular trash can (one that sends waste to a landfill rather than a recycling center). Now, the act of recycling paper, metal, and plastic has become a habit for many people.

The EPA recommends that everyone “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” These three commandments are ordered hierarchically; you should first reduce the amount of resources you use—then reuse whatever you can. When all else fails, recycle what you can. Recycling is certainly an important component of being environmentally responsible. However, recycling should not be an end in itself; it should be seen as a means to the end of reusing materials. Running recycling programs is expensive; for-profit materials management companies make their profit by selling the feedstocks—recycled materials—that result from the recycling process.

But the economics of recycling are changing dramatically, especially in the area of plastics. Plastics make up a larger percentage of the waste stream than ever, due to technological advances in the manufacturing process. However, many of these new plastics, especially flexible plastic films and pouches, are not recyclable. They contaminate the waste stream and make it more expensive for materials processors to create high-quality feedstocks. At the same time, global financial trends, like lower oil prices and a slower Chinese economy, are reducing demand for plastic feedstocks. This is creating an economic “perfect storm,” in which recycling companies are having trouble staying in the black.

How can your office recycling program help? Make sure employees understand what is recyclable and what isn’t, especially when it comes to lightweight plastics and films. Provide recycling receptacles with signs showing best practices. Consider adding a composting program if possible. And remember, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

 

 

Logistics Focus: Sustainable Transportation

When you bite into your sandwich at lunch today, ask yourself: “How far did this food have to travel to get to my desk?” With today’s global logistics, the answer could be more complex than you might think, with some types of food being transported thousands of miles before they are eaten. And consumers—especially millennials—are increasingly concerned with the sustainability of the food they eat.

Sustainable Transportation

Aside from the health benefits associated with sustainable food choices, making food transportation more sustainable can have an impact on the environment and on world hunger. According to The World Bank:

  • Up to 50% of harvest is wasted between farm and fork—the moment we actually consume food.
  • Transport-related emissions account for about 15% of overall greenhouse gas emissions. And 60% of those emissions are coming from road transport.
  • Logistics costs affect small farmers disproportionally (up to 23% of their total costs).

To help companies make their supply chains greener, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the SmartWay program in 2004. The program, which is completely voluntary, has helped its partners save over 7 billion gallons of fuel, lower fuel costs by $24.9 billion, and reduce carbon emissions by 72.8 million metric tons. SmartWay, which is a public-private partnership among the EPA, state and local governments, and the transportation industry, accomplishes several things:

  • It provides a comprehensive and well-recognized system for tracking, documenting, and sharing information about fuel use and freight emissions across supply chains.
  • It helps companies identify and select more efficient freight carriers, transport modes, equipment, and operational strategies to improve supply chain sustainability and lower costs from goods movement.
  • It supports global energy security and offsets environmental risk for companies and countries.
  • It reduces freight transportation-related climate change and air pollutant emissions by accelerating the use of advanced fuel-saving technologies.

Look for the SmartWay logo to know that your food is being transported according to the best available efficiency technology and carbon data.