Recipes for Carbon Reduction: 3 Tiers of Operational Excellence at Compass Group

By Chris Gassman, 2010 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Compass Group, MBA/JD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business and University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Net Impact member.

Throughout life (and particularly in business school) we are repeatedly reminded to be succinct, especially when talking about how our past experiences prepare us for future ones.  Looking back on my summer with the EDF Climate Corps program at Compass Group, an elevator pitch with three things I love about my experience already stands out.

1. The Industry: Commercial Food Service

As a $31 billion industry ($27 billion of that is shared between Compass Group and three other competitors in the same market segment) with thin margins, client satisfaction is important and the market demand for such service providers to build in carbon reduction is growing.  And honestly, who doesn’t like food?  Whether you eat to live or live to eat, it’s a daily and personal experience for the 300 million-plus Americans across the country.

2. The Function: Strategy

While many of my Climate Corps colleagues worked with their host companies to find ways to slash significant costs off utility bills, Compass Group had a slightly different need: how to do this for existing clients and use it to compete for new ones? This is the sweet spot for the C-suite: how do we grow our business? How do we increase profit via revenue?  Compass Group brought in a Climate Corps Fellow to help develop its strategic response to these client carbon requests.  We reviewed in-house data from the field, as well as industry best practices, and organized the ideas based upon two principles:

  • Net Cost Neutrality: cut costs first, and then use those savings to cover any later premiums
  • Operational ease of implementation: find resources within the Compass Group corporate structure

The result was a Three Tiered Strategy for Operational Excellence, a playbook to guide frontline managers in a systems approach to the lowest hanging fruit and build traction from there to the largest hanging fruit.

3. The Field: Sustainability

Businesses around the world are increasingly coming to look at sustainability less as a liability and more as a megatrend, like IT: a way to differentiate and grow or be left behind, a way to do well by doing good.  Other challenging issues, besides carbon, face Compass Group’s clients (e.g. water, biodiversity, chemicals and other health concerns, etc.), and making gains in one issue could come at the expense of another.  That was the challenge that made it exciting: deliver on the client's requests in a way that meets the present demand while building a tool flexible enough to connect to other considerations and help make sense of them.

More than just a sound-bite

While this was a fantastic opportunity for me personally to continue developing macro-scale strategies and gain exposure to the energy and food verticals, what stood out to me the most though was hearing how senior executives saw this project as a game changer, a step in tipping everyone’s experience with food toward sustainability.

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