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The carrot or the stick: Behavior is the key to change

May 22, 2013


By Christy Cook

How do you affect real change? It’s an age-old question.

In order to make longstanding changes in the areas of waste and sustainability, we need behavior change. We’ve known this for a while, so it might not seem surprising or novel, but we haven’t yet fully cracked the code on how to generate waste reducing behaviors. To change, we must shift the culture within our communities, our homes and our businesses.

Culture change can be hard to pinpoint or observe, but the most profound moment of my career happened in 2012 at Emory University in Atlanta, when I was fortunate enough to witness change in action. I just completed waste training for Sodexo’s team members at Dobbs University Center and I stepped back to observe how they would apply what they’d just learned.

Later that day a cook and line server were discussing the 15 pounds of leftover carrots remaining after the meal service. The cook instructed the line server to throw the carrots away, and then this great moment happened. The light bulb went off. The server initiated a deeper conversation with the cook and the two of them immediately realized the value of the wasted food from an environmental, financial, and social aspect. They tapped into the training and created a solution together. The two discussed customer flow, the challenges of kitchen design and equipment and together created a process to communicate with one another on how to prepare the food just in time for service — thereby creating no waste. They shared this with all the team members so this process was implemented everywhere. I believe this is profound because not only did they affect behavior for themselves, they shared it with others. They became the leaders and change agents in that kitchen, cultivating new behaviors in others every day. Just like that….magic. That connection was made not just because of education, but also by presenting the material in a way that showed everyone they, too, could make positive change.

As individuals, we can make change. But with that said, source and food waste
reduction, recycling and waste minimization are big issues that require diligence and commitment. It takes a concerted effort from everyone to achieve meaningful impact. Work with those around you for positive changes, and think about the decisions you make and the consequences involved. Take simple steps and ensure a better quality of life for yourself — and generations to come.


Christy Cook is the senior manager of sustainability field support at the contract foodservice firm Sodexo USA and a member of the Conserve Sustainability Advisory Committee


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