External costs in catering – Part 3: Experiment: paying environmental costs in company restaurants

External catering costs. Part 3: Experiment: paying environmental costs in company restaurants
How do consumers in a company restaurant react when they see the environmental cost of their lunch? Will they pay for this? And what does it take to make environmental costs transparent and integrate them into the point-of-sale (POS) system? A consortium of CE Delft, caterer Hutten and three clients, Wageningen University & Research (WUR), BDO Accountants (BDO) and CZ Zorgverzekeraar (CZ), set out to answer these questions. Together with a student team from WUR, they conducted an experiment on pricing and paying for environmental costs.

The experiment
At two locations served by caterer Hutten, at BDO and at Wageningen University & Research (WUR), visitors to the company restaurant had the option of paying the environmental cost of their lunch for a fortnight.

Aspects to consider when introducing environmental pricing
The main recommendations from this experiment are:

  • Organise communication in a joint manner by both the client and the caterer. Ensure that it is in line with ongoing policies.
  • Involve the right people for project management, communication, ICT and practical elaboration.
  • Get the whole catering team involved in the experiment, from venue manager to cashier.
  • Ensure that all involved have sufficient knowledge and time.
  • Test the point-of-sale (POS) system thoroughly and make sure the system works technically and is easy to operate.

Consumer behaviour in focus
The experiment shows that at WUR, environmental costs were paid for roughly one quarter of the products sold. At BDO, it was 17% in the first week and 7% in the second week. The difference between the sites is partly explained by the difference in knowledge and attitude towards paying environmental costs. It may also be a factor that cashiers were used at WUR and self-scanning cash registers at BDO.

From insight to action: free milk abolished
Health insurer CZ has actually put into practice the idea that environmental costs can help reduce environmental impact: The insight that one glass of cow’s milk has the same environmental cost as 5,000 glasses of tap water led to the decision to stop providing milk for free. From 1 March 2023, €0.50 will be charged for a glass of milk or buttermilk. The result is visible: in the four company restaurants, milk consumption fell from 650 litres in January to 185 litres in March.

This project is part of a larger project: the Multi-Year Programme Experimenting with True Pricing, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit). Other publications in this project are:
Part 1: Specific tips for catering contracts
Part 2: The environmental costs of catering in three company restaurants – CE Delft