Improving Sustainability Through Low-Code with Foodprint Group’s Christina & Laura | Mendix

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A podcast about the low-code shift & the makers bringing ideas to life.

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Episode 8

Improving Sustainability Through Low-Code with Foodprint Group’s Christina & Laura

Synopsis

Christina and Laura talk about creating an application and associated database that brings visibility into their clients’ internal processes, evolving their consulting service into a scalable product, how they ensure success with a simple, but impactful, on-boarding process, their strategy for data management and permissions for users ranging from chefs to c-suite executives, and identifying sustainable techniques that also reduce their clients’ operational costs.

Transcript

/ Mark Manning /
Welcome to Make/Shift. Mark Manning here, Customer Evangelist at Mendix. We’re here to explore how your peers have adopted low-code, and the pain points they’ve addressed with the platform. We’ll take an authentic, unfiltered look at the solutions our customers are building to digitize their processes, to deliver much-needed solutions to market more quickly, and to cut down the cost of development.

On today’s episode, we chat with Foodprint Group’s co-founders, Christina Grace and Laura Rosenshine. Foodprint Group helps food and hospitality businesses design zero waste into their internal processes. By reducing waste and improving recycling and reuse, their clients better respond to the demands of eco-conscious customers, meet regulatory requirements, save money, and achieve sustainability goals. On today’s episode, we’ll talk about creating an application and associated database that brings visibility into the client’s waste and consumption, driving process improvement and waste reduction, and eventually building a scalable product that augments or enhances their consulting services. Next we’ll learn how they ensure success to be simple but impactful onboarding process. They explain the strategy for data management and permissions for users ranging from chefs to C-suite executives. And finally, they reveal the sustainability techniques that reduce their client’s operational costs.

Christina and Laura, thank you very much for joining us. Could you each tell us a little bit about yourselves, your backgrounds and the company you’ve created together?

/ Christina Grace /
Sure. I’m Chris Grace. I’m the CEO of Foodprint Group, I have a food systems planning background. I have been working on a more sustainable and just food system for quite a long time from farm to plate and with Foodprint, taking that farm to plate all the way into the circular economy. Laura and I came together to merge Foodprint back in 2017, because we’ve been doing consulting work with companies, trying to help them address waste reduction, particularly around food waste. And we were pushing a rock up hill, one company here, one company there, and we wanted to come together and create a repeatable method and make this method super accessible to food and hospitality companies who want to lighten their impact on the planet. So I’ll turn it over to Laura.

/ Laura Rosenshine /
Thank you. So my name is Laura Rosenshine. I am head of Client Services for Foodprint Group, and I’ve been focused on our tech development. I kind of came into this space with passion about composting at a later age in life, learning what it was and then how it actually can happen in an urban environment. So, as Chris mentioned, we had interest in recycling initiatives, but focused around food waste and came together to create a repeatable service and have a larger impact in food and hospitality businesses.

/ Christina Grace /
Now what’s really interesting is technology is actually what brought Laura and I together, then we’re here having a tech talk, but Laura was working with a company called Global Enviro, that was turning food waste into fertilizer, that restaurants, hotels could use. And I was working for companies that were looking for technologies that would help reduce their food print, the amount of food waste they had to offtake for composting and others. So in that early technology conversation, we have always been thinking about how technology will help businesses reduce their waste and how the waste space in general desperately needed innovation at the time.

/ Mark Manning /
So it sounds like a serendipitous and important match between the two of you, a blend of expertise. I’m curious about your perspective on the current state of the restaurant and hospitality industry, as it relates to sustainability. How good a job would you say they’re doing right now?

/ Christina Grace /
So food and hospitality, I think more than many other industries is under a huge amount of pressure when it comes to sustainability customer facing places like hotels and restaurants, I think they are the forefront in many cases of really driving change. And everyone started sustainability with energy, but with these places that are consumer facing, when someone walks into a fast casual restaurant and they don’t see recycling happening, or they see contamination in the trash, that restaurant could be doing all kinds of other wonderful things, sourcing sustainable food, but they’re still going to get dinged on social media that they’re not recycling properly.

And I think hotels are, they have been grappling with single use items in hotel rooms, how are we dealing with that half of this so far and all these things? So they haven’t been innovating for a while and pressure just keeps going up. This industry has also been hit more than any others by COVID, yet COVID has not slowed climate change, so we’re not hearing that these companies wanted to do less. We have even been able to launch with a small restaurant chain here in New York City that was hit very hard by COVID and still wanted to put a zero waste program in place before they reopened, that company is called Altamarea, and we’ve now brought programs to two of the restaurants here in the city. But so I think that the pressure is on, despite the current challenges.

/ Mark Manning /
Certainly interesting. And how are you and your team bringing about change here? What role does your expertise play between your team, and what role does technology have to play?

/ Christina Grace /
So waste, we all see it on the sidewalk, we see it in containers and backs of buildings, and waste has been dealt with for so long as something people deal with once it’s happened, and our role is to go into businesses and get them to think about wasted materials as a resource, and to start upstream and look at what are the materials here? What are the items that you’re purchasing that you’re bringing into your spaces that land in the trash? How are you designing your spaces to limit waste and make it easy for people to recycle?

And then, do we understand when we put these new interventions in place, what’s actually happening? Are we reducing our waste or recycling better? What’s that diversion rate? And we work with haulers in particular, those companies that have to remove the material and give it a second life or take it to a landfill. And historically those businesses have been the source of data about a company’s waste, companies don’t have a clear sense of how much waste they generate, but the data they’ve been getting for a long time has been based on estimates, it just hasn’t been great.

So our goal is to put these programs in place, but then measure progress and really utilize technology to do that. We want people to think of waste as a program, so we’ve created a dashboard where all of the design materials and operations materials we create with clients are stored in a place where they’re easily accessible. People can see their hauling schedule. We work with them on food donations, they can find those partners, they can know who on their team’s in charge, of all the information’s in one place, and that’s a really big piece of our work with the Mendix system is building this database to hold that information.

I feel like we’re the last frontier on the sustainability front, and people have been metering waste for, and metering electricity rather forever, but it’s hard to measure your waste, so we’ve also used Mendix to create the version two of our daily waste tracking tool Trax, which you use to measure your daily waste, you get your diversion reports, you know how much is being diverted from landfill. We’re trying to get our clients at 90% of better materials being recycled or composted, or having a second life and less than 10% going to landfill or incineration. And they can use Trax and understand how they’re doing towards that goal, and then we also report back what their environmental impacts are, what their carbon impacts are the waste program using something called the WARM model which was developed by the EPA.

So we’re helping our clients understand what’s happening and what they can do to do better, how to optimize their work using Mendix as a backbone for our customer database and our customer tools. I don’t know, Laura if you want to add?

/ Laura Rosenshine /
Yeah. I just wrote down two thoughts when it comes to the role that our team plays and how tech comes in. One, I would just say that from a team perspective, as Chris mentioned, waste is kind of an afterthought, and there’s this mystery around it. You put something out on the curb or in the back alley and it’s gone by the next day. And our goal is really to help our clients start thinking about waste before it becomes waste as Chris said, but also to start thinking about organizing it in a way that it’s never been organized before, and we’re not just physically talking about separating different materials into their proper waste streams, it’s the whole upstream and downstream approach to waste.

It’s sourcing differently at the front end, looking at reusables in the middle end. Where can I find a vendor that can actually take this product back and clean it and bring it back to me so that I don’t have to purchase single use items… all the way down through, how can I stop putting things out on the curb that inevitably must end up in a landfill or incinerator? So, the idea that we are providing an application and database for our clients, so to bring organization around a large portion of a business, waste is something that touches everyone from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. And everyone in a business should be asked to handle it responsibly, and that hasn’t been the case.

And so we’re just trying to empower our clients to start thinking about it that way and start handling it just the way that they would handle something that is going out to a customer, because it is kind of all one in the same, even if the customer is not touching it, the customer has something to do with it. And then I think if I could elaborate a little bit on the tech portion, we really hope that Mendix as a tool ends up being this amazing transition for us, starting at a place where our own team is using it to help our clients organize their own data, but eventually empowering our clients to be using the tool by themselves. Where we are a helping hand, but ultimately they have the power to use the tool the same way that we would, but they don’t need us for everything anymore.

I think about a client where they’ve got 30 sites and the way that they’re managing how much money they pay each waste bill at each site is organized in an Excel sheet. I think Excel sheets have a lot of function and purpose, but there was almost nothing that we could do with trying to optimize or reduce waste costs when we were trying to analyze it in an Excel sheet, because it’s not just about the total amount that they pay, it’s about how much are they paying per stream and how can we affect the increase and decrease across those streams to optimize diversion, which usually has a lower price tag than what might end up in a landfill or incinerator.

/ Mark Manning /
No, it certainly makes sense, it’s sort of a fascinating vision democratizing the tech work so your customers can make things fit for purpose.

/ Christina Grace /
I just wanted to add to that. We have been really service-intense, people feed on the street for our clients and really in extension of their businesses for so long. But from the start we knew that wasn’t scalable and it’s been really a process for us to get the method right, to look at enough data so that we could understand how we could create these processes that make our method much more do it yourself. What are the tools that each client needs, and we’re kind of ticking through that list one at a time, and really using Mendix as the backbone, because our goal is to Laura’s point to do it yourself, version of Foodprint so that smaller businesses, even that couldn’t afford our services can benefit from the method.

And larger businesses around the world at a time like COVID, where we can’t be flying all over the place, can continue this good work. And so we’re super excited to have these tools and to be able to start to get our clients, so I guess, go no hands on the bike.

/ Mark Manning /
It’s a really fascinating vision. And to follow up on something, it sounds like consulting and expertise sort of drives policy or process, and software drives compliance and tracking. Could you talk a little more about the next step for your customers? Meaning what’s next for your customers once they make a plan, they stick to it with your software, what they learn, the new things they can do, the things they learn about themselves.

/ Christina Grace /
Yeah. It’s a cycle because when we generally launch our service, we start with, okay, let’s go in and get the bare bones, let’s get the program in so that we look at the basic building design. We look at the basic products that our clients are using. We get the operations, the training tools in place and the standard operating procedures, and we put all that in place, and then we start to track and maybe that gets us to 80% diversion. Using those compliance tools, we start to say, okay, we know we’re still seeing a bunch of X in the trash. This is a purchasing project, let’s figure out how to replace those gloves with something else or that packaging with something else. Or let’s see, there’s a project where maybe we’re going to reach out to your distributor and figure out if you can get rid of that waxed cardboard and suddenly have reusable shipping containers that go back and get sanitizing back.

And we’re like, “What are the things that are keeping us from getting to that 90%?” Sometimes it’s stuff that’s as simple as, oh, we did an audit and we’re tracking, we’re still seeing that there’s a lot of liquid in the waste out. Let’s make sure that people are pouring their coffee down the drain before they’re sticking that cup in the bin, simple things like that. But to get to that 90% or better, sometimes that’s what it takes, and it’s a marathon not a sprint, where we get a program up and running and there’s optimization on an ongoing basis that those tools allow.

/ Mark Manning /
And for Laura, if we could touch on what’s under the hood in the software, what are the features and the things you’ve built that you say make those things possible.

/ Laura Rosenshine /
Let’s see, so we worked with my sister who has a background in Computer Science out of college, and then became a corporate lawyer and then retired from being a corporate lawyer, but while she was there, she became a database expert when it came to some of the lawsuits that they were dealing with. And what ended up happening was I was able to talk with her enough about trash to get to the point where we realized that waste streams were the foundation of everything that we needed to build. Waste streams affected our audits, they affected the clients both at a corporate level and at a site level, and they affected the reporting.

That was the foundation of what’s under our hood. And so everything ties back to a waste stream. Christina mentioned standard operating procedures, that all has to do with waste streams, what type of liner bag, what type of bin, all of that, again, back to waste streams. And so what’s really there in the tool? I can basically say that everything that a client would need in order to understand: what liner bag am I supposed to purchase, to what percentage of my waste is this waste stream makeup are all tied together. Also, major components that would normally feel like not important are things like contact information.

When you’re working with a company of 100 or 200 employees, and there are six or seven stakeholders that are involved in making a successful zero waste program, all of those people are working on different elements of a zero waste program that ultimately have to come together. And quite honestly, without having each of them work on their own area and come together, the whole thing will not work. We need people at an organization to understand that waste touches every aspect. And so even though a facilities’ manager might be in charge of the porters who ultimately put it out at the curb, the chef who orders something on the front end is just as important.

And so they need to understand that we’re painting this kind of full picture. So when you go onto our dashboard, the main things that you’re going to see right off the bat are the people who are involved in the program, the waste streams that this site is separating into, and we call those primary waste streams because another element that’s really important is the idea of specialty waste streams. Their vendor take-back programs like for fine dining restaurants, the idea that they have reusable linens on the tables and that fine dining restaurants rarely are responsible for washing those.

So there’s a relationship with that vendor take-back, but if there isn’t a system as to where that dirty linen goes and what day it gets picked up, it might not be a perfect system. And so we have to tie all of those pieces together and start to make the people think that the linen is just important as the reusable fork, which is just as important as a food donation program, because at the end of the day, if there’s leftover food that also has to be accounted for, and so there’s even a donation component. So what you’re seeing there is you’re easily able to see all of these streams that come in and out of a location, who’s responsible for them from the vendor perspective, how much of that is being moved in and out on a monthly basis, and what days of the week those materials are being collected so that there’s an order to the madness, which quite often we do not see when it comes to waste management programs.

/ Christina Grace /
Waste management programs are often so limited to, okay, there’s a hauler that hauls this stuff away at the end, and what our experience shows is there are so many data points and if they’re not well organized, this could seem much more complicated than it has to be. So the goal of working with Mendix and developing a database is actually to make it super simple so that the person running, the who leads the janitorial staff only sees certain things that they need to care about. And the marketing team only has to worry about the items, the signage of things that they’re branding and that they need to care about or data that they need, because they want to share it in the social media program. They want to say our diversion rate is now at 90%, they want to tell their customers.

They can easily access that report. The beauty of Mendix is that we’re going to be able to give people different permission. So, when you hear Laura share, there’s so much information, but what we’re doing here is trying to make it easy so that it doesn’t feel at all overwhelming, and it’s simplified for the client and that these programs can just run like any other program, like a food safety program in a hotel or restaurant things that they’re used to doing programmatically. We just want waste to be the same or wasted materials, because we shouldn’t even call it waste. These are valuable resources, a lot of things that can be reused, things that can be recycled, things that we might replace with things that can be reused.

So the whole point is to take all this information and present it back simply and tailored to the different stakeholders on the team that need it. And then separately from that database, and we mentioned daily waste tracking tool which is a native app that we’re building with Mendix. That app is only going to be seen by the people who are tracking waste every day. So someone who is bringing waste to the loading dock, they’re going to push a button and say, how many black bags of trash or whatever container unit that they’re moving. They’re just going to track by unit, and we work with the client on volume to weight conversion data, so that up in the CEO or CIO, or up in the corporate social responsibility team’s office, they go in and they look at that report, and what they see is this is our waste diversion, this is how many trucks off the road, this is the equivalent in our carbon savings of our, or we saved this many acres in forest land.

They only see the data they need, and they don’t necessarily even have to know what the front end of the Trax tablet that the janitorial team is using even looks like. And so the purpose really is to use this database and the system and the tools that we can build off of it, so that each person has a pretty simple mandate in the world of managing waste at a company. And if I’m just a general employee at an office building, I’m just seeing the training video that tells me, this is our program, and this is where I need to put stuff. But if I’m on the janitorial team or the facilities manager or the head of HR who has to lead training, I see something else.

/ Laura Rosenshine /
Oh, I was just wanting to add one more thing that I feel like is under the hood, that is a really cool part of our program. But again, to Chris’s point would only be made available to the person that is responsible for it. Quite often, when we’re working with multiple sites, there isn’t a sense of standardization across sites in terms of how waste is handled and how waste and recycling programs are measured. And another tool that we’ve created is something we call a scorecard, and the scorecard will be comprised of, let’s say multiple elements and multiple different areas that different stakeholders are responsible for, but whether it’s on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, the same scorecard could be rolled out across multiple sites under one business, and you would then have a way to see how well a site is doing, and again, reinforce when you see behaviors that aren’t in line with the program that the site managers want to be seeing.

Beforehand, it was very hard to create a system where you could kind of keep an eye on programs across your portfolio. And that’s another element that we really want to make available at that high up level, is the confidence in the numbers that they’re seeing, that these programs are supported by all of the elements that go to lead towards zero waste.

/ Mark Manning /
So, I think it’s pretty clear that there are societal benefits to managing and mitigating your waste or resources as you call them. It sounds like your programs and software are built quite a bit of opportunity for improvements in cost and inefficiency. To pivot into the quantifiable sort of the bottom line for any business, what sort of hard dollar benefits can your customers expect from working with your team? Where do they see improvement?

/ Christina Grace /
Sure. So the big money is in shifting purchasing, so when we start to track waste, and we understand what is landing in the waste, and we can make changes, that’s where we save money. For example, we have one account that had 500 pounds of food waste on a single buffet, on a single day in the dining room, and the EPA estimates that the value on average of a pound of wasted food is about $1.17. Now that’s a wasted apple peal, or wasted fancy cut of salmon that someone doesn’t eat and gets tossed. So you got to imagine that the food on that buffet that had been prepared by people that must very high-end food was more than $1.17 a pound.

So imagine if we just assume that we’re a $2 a pound times 500 every day, of a 255 day operating year, we’re in the hundreds of thousands of dollars of waste of savings that are available to that client if they just start to reduce the amount of waste off that single buffet. So imagine much larger food businesses across a portfolio of sites. But we see this with packaging, we see this with single use dishware, as our clients try to be more sustainable, invest in more compostable dishware, when we get them to use reusable dishware that they’re washing in-house, there’s huge cost savings over time for that, or even the simplest of cost savings are just getting people to recycle more appropriately and save money on their hauling bill. Because even in most cities here in the US, recycling is still less expensive than trashing things.

So a lot of companies will come to us thinking about how they can save on their hauling bill, and we can do that with them, but that’s the smallest savings they could get. The big savings is in wasted materials, whether it’s food or packaging or other wasted time when we work with our clients to see how efficient or inefficient their actual waste management is, like how far is the person walking from where they collect materials to the loading dock to dispose of them? Is it a 20-minute trip, or is it a five minute trip? And what are the things that we can do to have less material moving so much around the building all day, because people time in cities like New York is the most expensive thing.

So there’s a lot of opportunity for cost savings, most of our clients want that bottom line benefit, but they don’t come to us for that, they generally come to us because they want to do better in their community, they want to be working towards carbon savings and contribute to reversing climate change, and they know that their customers care, so some of it too, is its motivation for marketing and sales.

They want to be able to say, we’re doing this, we’re keeping up with our competitors, but yeah, definitely cost savings, they’re happy to have that too. And there’s lots of opportunity for it.

/ Mark Manning /
It’s a rare and gratifying thing to see something that benefits the world and the bottom line simultaneously. This is a fascinating proposition and a big achievement for the both of you and your team, and we can’t wait to see how you grow and I think it’s safe to say everyone at Mendix is pulling for you. So thank you very, very much the two of you for being here.

/ Laura Rosenshine /
Thank you.

/ Christina Grace /
Thanks so much.

/ Mark Manning /
Thanks for listening and be sure to check out Mendix.com/MakeShift to subscribe and stay updated with our latest episodes.