On the heels of worker recommendations, new Green Concessions Policy at O’Hare is a step in the right direction

Just weeks after food service workers at O’Hare Airport released “Putting Sustainability on the Table: Airport Workers’ Vision for $3 Billion of Food and Drink at O’Hare”—a report in which they made recommendations to the City of Chicago on sustainable food concessions at the country’s second-busiest airport—the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) has announced a new Green Concessions Policy.

The Green Concessions Policy advances the CDA’s sustainability program by requiring concessionaires to focus on the use of renewable resources in consumer packaging, disposable utensils, cleaning products, trash bags, and food. It also includes requirements around recycling and donating surplus food—two sustainable practices highlighted by workers in their recommendations to the City. The Green Concessions Policy is an exciting step towards sustainable food practices at the airport and workers are encouraged by the CDA’s demonstrated commitment to these issues.

Chris Williams, a server at Wicker Park Sushi said, “I think policies like requiring sustainable foods and donating surplus food items to local charities will help a lot of people. It’s also good to see the city listening to the people who really drive the airport, the people who work there.”

As the City of Chicago and CDA prepare to set guidelines for companies interested in providing food service at O’Hare Airport, workers are calling on the City to ensure that those guidelines include sustainable food practices by way of scratch-cooking concepts; healthy, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options; locally grown produce; eco-friendly waste disposal methods; food donation; and job stability and training opportunities for current food service workers.

The CDA is already positioned as a leader on airport sustainability with programs like an on-site aeroponic garden and eight acres of vegetated green roofs at O’Hare, but the introduction of the Green Concessions Policy indicates the City is ready to incorporate sustainable food practices at the airport. HMS Host, the current food service provider at O’Hare, has set a great example with restaurants like Tortas Frontera and Wicker Park Sushi, both of which use herbs grown in the aeroponic garden and prepare food made with fresh ingredients. Food service workers, as the experts on food and passengers at O’Hare, are excited to be a part of the airport’s sustainable future!

O’Hare concessions workers at an event at the Chicago Department of Aviation, March 12, 2013.

The Green Concessions Policy will go into effect in June 2013 and fortunately for the City, it won’t need to reinvent the wheel to make it work—at least from a worker training perspective. In Los Angeles, airport workers and concessionaires at LAX are spreading the word of a smooth food service transition during the airport’s ongoing massive redevelopment. What used to be a “culinary wasteland,” LAX is on track to becoming a real foodie destination with the inclusion of high-end restaurants and local favorites that will open in the airport this year. As part of this redevelopment, the City of Los Angeles invested in culinary training for existing LAX airport food service workers.  As a result, LAX now has 48 new cooks, sauciers, and culinary artists.

“I’ve been working in the food industry for decades, but I never thought I’d get the opportunity to go back to school and learn new skills,” former fast food worker Valencia Crain said after participating in the rigorous training program. “Now, I can sous-vide pork chops and make hollandaise from scratch. I feel very proud.”

The success at LAX offers insight into what a successful food service transition can look like, and the Green Concessions Policy is an encouraging glimpse of what could lie ahead for the City of Chicago.  In the meantime, food service workers at O’Hare will continue to advocate for their recommendations on the future of food – and sustainability – at their airport.

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