Organizational & Institutional Action: Sweetgreen “Scraps” the Idea of Food Waste

In developed countries, the majority of food loss occurs at the point of sale (such as food waste from supermarkets and restaurants) and at the hands of the consumer (such as household food waste), (Niesenbaum 2017). Solutions to food waste at the individual level primarily require active behavior change, such as taking or requesting smaller meal portions, going “trayless,” saving extra food for leftovers, evaluating and re-planning grocery lists, adopting better food preservation techniques, and composting. However, there are a number of barriers to these behavior changes that make it difficult for individuals to reduce their food waste. Some of these barriers are simply due to the individual’s indifference to practicing sustainability or ignorance of their contribution to food waste. However, there are still many other individuals who are mindful of their food choices and try to practice sustainable behaviors and waste reduction. While those who actively work to reduce their food waste can be quite successful when grocery shopping and eating at home, it can be difficult to eat sustainably at restaurants and cafeterias since there is a lack of individual control over the food. One can reduce their food waste at restaurants and cafeterias by going “trayless” and taking home extra food for leftovers, but there are many other factors that individuals do not have agency over. For example, while one can finish their plate or ask for a box for leftovers at a restaurant, they cannot control the food waste that occurs in the kitchen and at other tables. In order to support food waste reduction at restaurants from a more macro level, individuals can seek out restaurants that specifically focus on reducing their food waste and practicing sustainability.

Source: Photograph by Bill Couch

Sweetgreen is a food shop with over 50 locations in various cities in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. Their menu includes healthy beverages, salads, grain bowls, and make-your-own options, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free ingredients. Their menu varies by location because they source their ingredients from partners who they know and trust, and who they believe are ethical and sustainable. They also try to source locally whenever possible.

Source: Photograph by Anna Ottum

All of their sources are listed on the walls in their stores in order to publicize their supply chain for consumers. In addition to their transparent supply chain, all of their stores have open kitchens so that customers can watch them prepare the fresh food. They buy whole vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains every day, and they buy their food seasonally. Overall, Sweetgreen supports food sustainability by buying fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients from like-minded farmers who they trust.

In addition to their focus on food sustainability, Sweetgreen practices sustainable waste management. When new stores are built, they work to preserve the natural exterior of the building, and they use furniture made from recycled materials. All of their utensils and bowls are biodegradable, and they label their separate bins for recycling and compostable trash so that customers know exactly where each of their trash items belong. Sweetgreen strives to make every aspect of their stores sustainable, from their food sourcing to their waste management to their furniture. On their website, they assert that “society can’t afford not to think and eat sustainably, and Sweetgreen takes steps to positively impact the food system.” This supports the definition of sustainability regarding the “protection of natural systems and biodiversity through the use of resources in a way that maximizes renewal, encourages reuse, and minimizes waste.” Additionally, Sweetgreen’s menu offers healthy food options made with fresh, nutritional ingredients, thereby reflecting the definition of sustainability concerning the “elevation of human well-being standards which include…improved health and nutrition.”

In addition to their overall dedication to sustainability, Sweetgreen specifically addresses the issue of food waste. In 2015, they partnered with Chef Dan Barber, who created the “wastED” salad at Blue Hill restaurant and organized wastED dinner pop-ups in New York City. Inspired by wastED’s theme of food waste and reuse, Sweetgreen created a food scrap salad made up of food parts that are normally thrown away, such as cabbage cores, kale stems, and broccoli stalks.

Source: Food & Wine, June 22, 2017.

By utilizing every part of each food item and promoting the consumption of typically-discarded food parts, Sweetgreen encouraged customers to reduce their food waste and to reevaluate traditional notions of consumable food. According to the definition of sustainability, Sweetgreen’s food scrap salad “encourages reuse” and “minimizes waste.” However, since food scraps are stigmatized and generally viewed as inedible and unappetizing, not many people would be expected to show any interest in purchasing the salad. Sweetgreen preemptively avoided this barrier by advertising the salad as “trendy” and hip, and they offered it as a limited-time menu item in order to encourage people to “buy it while they can.” Sweetgreen also sold the salad as one of their cheapest options, and they included other “traditional” food items in the salad along with a delicious pesto vinaigrette.

In addition to their overall promotion of sustainability, Sweetgreen specifically addressed the issue of food waste by making and selling food scrap salads. They helped to reduce food waste not only by using food parts that are typically thrown away, but also by raising awareness of food waste, encouraging sustainable behaviors and eating habits, and challenging conceptions of “legitimate” food.


Works Cited

Niesenbaum, Richard A. 2017. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Unpublished book, Oxford University Press.

Sweetgreen. Retrieved from

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