Responsible Purchasing Network

Food Services: Overview

Below we provide an overview of each section of the Guide: Social & Environmental Issues; Best Practices; Cost, Quality, & Supply; Policies; Specifications & Standards; Products; and Calculators.

Also check out RPN's Responsible Purchasing Guide for Food Containers, a companion to the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Food Services. The companion guide outlines the basic social and environmental issues and costs related to polystyrene food container use, provides model policies and bid specs related to alternative food containers, and addresses practical issues in waste management related to food containers.


Social and Environmental Issues

Food services have profound impacts on human health and the environment. The industrial agriculture system contributes between 17% and 32% of all human induced greenhouse gas emissions. Food is frequently produced with hazardous pesticides, fertilizers, growth hormones and antibiotics. Food waste is the single largest component, by weight, in the American waste stream.

Best Practices

Form a Food Services Green Team comprised of staff from purchasing, management, facilities, public relations and other affected stakeholders. This team should design, implement, track, and report on sustainable food service programs. The first step is to collect baseline data on: energy and water consumption; waste generation; and the types of food and food service products procured. Use this baseline to establish goals and measure progress. Adopt a policy reflecting these goals. Replace conventional goods with products that conform to standards such as Energy Star, USDA Organic,
Fair Trade, and/or are biobased, recycled-content, reusable and/or recyclable. Publish an annual report that includes measurable results, celebrates successes, and identifies obstacles and next steps.

Cost, Quality, and Supply

On balance, a variety of short and long term cost saving sustainability measures, such as those that reduce energy, water and food waste, can offset higher costs associated with sustainability upgrades, such as the use of organic food or compostable serviceware. Locally sourced food can be fresher, and organic foods can be more nutritious and safer. Recent studies show increased mineral content in organic foods such as significantly increased levels of Vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorous. These foods are all typically available through conventional suppliers and in most local markets. Energy Star rated kitchen appliances, and durable and disposable (biobased and/or recycled content) serviceware products can also be sourced through major distributors. Compostable serviceware is not yet widely available, but is rapidly gaining traction as innovative products bring down prices.


A model sustainable food service policy should mandate: solid waste reduction, lower greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy efficiency and conservation, the procurement of local and sustainable food, food waste reduction through portion control and low-carbon menus that promote, for example, less meat consumption. Kaiser Permanente and Woodbury County in Iowa, both have exemplary policies.

Specifications and Standards

Specify these food certifications: Demeter Biodynamic, Fair Trade, Food Alliance, Humane Raised and Handled, IMO, Marine Stewardship Council, Organic, Protected Harvest, and Rainforest Alliance. Specify food service equipment certified by Energy Star and NSF International. Use these food service operation certifications: AASHE STARS, Green Restaurant Association, Green Seal, USGBC LEED, and locally available green restaurant and grocer certifications (such as those in San Francisco and Santa Monica, CA). Specify food serviceware certified by ASTM, Biodegradable Products Institute, and EcoLogo. As available and appropriate, also specify local, regional, reusable, recycled, recyclable, and/or biobased, products.


The RPN Database contains thousands of Energy Star appliances, compostable serviceware products, and links to databases for local and certified food distributors and composting services.

Learn more about serviceware products in RPN's companion guide, the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Food Containers.


Use these calculators to measure energy and water consumption and to project savings associated with efficient appliances and alternative disposal methods:

Food Service Technology Center Life-Cycle and Energy Cost Calculators
These calculators measure the annual energy consumption of commercial food service appliances according to performance, usage and utility costs.

Food Service Technology Center: Pre-Rinse Spray Valve/Water Cost Calculator
This calculator estimates the savings associated with low-flow pre-rinse spray valves.

NYC Wasteless Calculator
This calculator measures the environmental and monetary benefits of switching from disposable cups and bowls to reusable serviceware.

The Joint Service Pollution Prevention Opportunity Handbook Economic
Analysis for Food Waste Composting or Reuse

Use this calculator to determine the annual operation and capital costs and payback period for investing in a composting program.

Creative Commons License This work by the Responsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.