military personnel chatting over lunch

Delivering Social Value in Defence

Published on : 9/22/22
Reading time : 7 min
  • The military plays a critical and strategic role in the UK, both supporting national resilience and infrastructure as well as stewardship of the Defence estate. However, it has equally important responsibilities to local communities, military personnel and their families, and the wider civilian population.

    Mark Baker, Chief Operating Officer of Sodexo Government, believes that Sodexo - as a responsible global company - plays a key role in supporting the Ministry of Defence on the ways and means to deliver meaningful social value, sustainability and positive change for the wider environment.

    Under the Armed Forces Covenant, the military is committed to supporting its currently serving personnel and veterans. This, combined with the Defence sector’s commitment to reduce its impact on the environment, underlines the importance of meaningful and successful social value initiatives.

    Sodexo was an early signatory of the Covenant and our own Social Impact Pledge underpins our efforts to help create a healthier, greener, safer society through four priority areas - People, Planet, Places and Partners - and we are working with the MoD to deliver initiatives that reflect those aims.


    A more sustainable future for Defence

    The UK was the first major economy to pass laws to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. As one of five UN Security Council permanent members, it also has a responsibility to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals.

    This necessitates steps to reduce carbon footprint throughout the Defence sector, which accounts for 50% of the UK central government’s emissions. Energy is a major focus and more sustainable fuel sources are becoming increasingly important, but policies, practices and habits also need to change if meaningful reductions are to be achieved.

    Food waste, for example, is a global problem, with around one third of all food produced for human consumption thought to be wasted – a total of 1.3 billion tonnes each year. This is responsible for an estimated 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as food in landfill breaks down into harmful gases such as methane.

    Sodexo is working with the Defence sector to achieve a more sustainable future and we have introduced WasteWatch – an initiative designed to minimise food waste by tracking and monitoring usage – at many of our sites.

    chef preparing food

    The processes applied via WasteWatch allow for assessment of not just plate waste, but also production waste, and all the components of these waste streams.

    Chefs can weigh food waste to assess where recipes and menus can be optimised. Using this analytical data, Sodexo and client teams work together to reduce customer plate waste, with portion sizes and servings monitored to reflect what people want and need. It may seem like a simple measure, but the data and insight is critical to achieving the MoD’s goals.

    The programme has been running at Colchester Garrison since 2015, preventing nearly £100,000 worth of food waste. That is the equivalent of almost 53,000 meals, avoiding 200 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

    WasteWatch has also been implemented at many of Sodexo’s 60 kitchens at Allenby Connaught on Salisbury Plain, while at Hestia South, food waste was reduced by 39% over the course of just one year. This equates to over 21,000 meals’ worth of waste - and costs - saved.


    Roadmap to net zero

    Similar systematic approaches have been implemented on the Falkland Islands, where 90% of all waste has traditionally been sent to landfill.

    This creates significant concerns not only because of the environmental impact of the emissions and chemicals generated by the process of food and waste breaking down in landfill, but also because of the finite availability of land.

    When a report revealed the Falklands landfill site at Gemma's Gulch was a little over a year from reaching capacity, with no apparent alternative available, Sodexo worked with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation to implement an innovative recycling strategy. Geographic isolation, a challenging climate and limited local facilities made the project particularly complex, but the team succeeded in designing and building a new facility capable of processing a wide range of materials including aluminium, tin, cardboard and glass at RAF Mount Pleasant. Many of these materials are now shipped to the UK for recycling, reducing the harmful impact of landfill on the environment and the community.

    Food waste is is also collected, freeze-dried and pelletised for local farmers to use as an agricultural compost, while a local environmental group also uses it to support regeneration of the marram grass in the ‘Tussocks’ on the East Falkland coastline to regenerate habitats and breeding grounds for penguins, birds and sealions.

    These projects have also been complemented by a campaign to engage personnel and promote behavioural change, as this was key to ensuring new recycling points were embraced and actively used.

    These initiatives, along with substantial progress in other areas of our business to move towards renewable energy sources, have helped us secure prestigious validation by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

    SBTi validation recognises a comprehensive and viable roadmap to net zero emissions, as Claire Atkins-Morris, Director of Corporate Responsibility for Sodexo UK & Ireland, explained. “The only way to keep the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C in sight is to prioritise emissions reductions, both in the near and long-term,” she said.

    This type of focus and commitment is critical if the Defence sector and its partners are to make substantial progress on ambitious climate change targets, and to instil socially responsible values at all levels.


    Looking after service personnel

    Opportunities to provide social value extend beyond environmental initiatives, and the military plays a vital role in enhancing the lived experience of its personnel and their families – including reservists and those who have left the service.

    The Armed Forces Covenant’s commitment to ensuring personnel are treated with fairness and respect is backed up by support and advice on finances, starting a new career, healthcare and accessing affordable home schemes.

    A £70 million programme was announced by the government in January 2022, under plans that include help for veterans to apply their skills to new roles such as in teaching and the health service.

    For Sodexo, reservists and ex-service personnel play vital roles not only at Defence sites, but also as employees throughout our organisation. As an early signatory of the Armed Forces Covenant, we work closely with the MoD, SSAFA and other military charities to improve the lived experience of military personnel and their families.

    Our Gold membership of the Employer Recognition Scheme was recently renewed, reflecting a commitment to reservists, serving and former personnel that includes:

    • Financial support for SSAFA’s Homelessness Fund through the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation;
    • Joint investment in military facilities with Service charities;
    • Providing guidance and advice to Tri-Service leavers on future careers in the FM sector;
    • Sponsorship of events such as the SSAFA Young Achievers Awards in Cyprus;
    • Providing hospitality, catering and other services for a variety of other military charity and fundraising events;
    • Volunteering and fundraising, with 30 employees taking part in the SSAFA 13 Bridges Walk across the iconic bridges of London;
    • Helping to challenge negative perceptions about employing ex-service personnel through SSAFA’s Friendly to Forces campaign.

    Rachel Evans, Human Resources Director for Sodexo Government & Agencies, has also been working with SSAFA as a volunteer mentor. She advises service leavers at a potentially daunting time, as they navigate new lives and careers.

    “As an employer, I really see the benefit of supporting the transition from a military career into a civilian one, and recognise the value that ex-services colleagues can bring to an organisation,” says Rachel. “It’s about providing guidance and empowering people to make their own decisions, find their own solutions, and give them the confidence to make a difference by themselves.”

    Research shows the programme has reduced feelings of social isolation by 35% and improved financial and housing stability by 20%.

    “Sodexo is helping ex-service individuals regain their independence and their dignity,” says SSAFA CEO Sir Andrew Gregory. “Nothing – nothing – is more important than that.”


    Making a meaningful difference

    The MoD’s social value commitment touches every aspect of society – a commitment that is mirrored by Sodexo’s own social impact pledge. We are working together at an organisational level to reduce waste and enhance opportunities, but also looking for ways to make a difference at a local level.

    On the Salisbury Plain, for example, staff, personnel and their families at Project Allenby Connaught raised over £6,500 for charities in the first half of 2022, collecting used furniture as part of a charitable initiative to support Stop Hunger and establishing collection points for local food banks.

    We also work with the Joint Educational and Training Services (JETS) Academy in Cyprus, supporting school-age dependants in further education through NVQs on customer service, business administration, leadership and catering. Sodexo’s experts have provided advice and support, while students have completed work experience placements and some have ultimately joined the Sodexo team.

    employee greeting soldier

    In the Falklands, meanwhile, the Springboard FutureChef programme has been running since 2019, with students from the Falklands Community School attending cooking sessions run by military chefs and our head chef on the islands.

    These initiatives help to develop a closer bond between local communities and military bases, and leverage the opportunities available to all - making a tangible difference to the lived experience of service personnel and the wider community.

    The UK’s Defence sector has an ambitious vision, and it is already reaping positive results. It has both a responsibility and an opportunity to make a difference, and with the support of like-minded partners like Sodexo, it can realise its full potential.


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