Consultant Greg Christian discusses the steps and outcomes from a visioning session that helped set the stage for implementing the strategy for Nardin Academy's sustainable foodservice plan.


Once Nardin Academy's management came to understand the current reality of its cafeteria, the leadership team wanted to know what it could be: what it could realistically look like to operate more sustainably. At this stage, I suggested creating a vision with a strategy attached.


All stakeholders should engage in the visioning process. Each client organization determines the key players, but it's a good idea to invite customers, members of the community, and other staff to participate in some part of the discussion. Nardin gathered its principals, students from fourth to twelfth grade, a teacher that's been at the school for more than 40 years, a handful of passionate parents, a community member and organic bakery owner, and Leslie Johnson.

My visioning process was inspired by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan's book Three Laws of Performance — a good read for anyone trying to create a shared vision. It's common for a group to start on the negative side. People tend to be full of the mentality that nothing new ever works. It is important to make room for a new mentality while still asking what people wish was different.

It can be beneficial to run an initial exercise to peel away layers. Opening reflections, silent time, or soft music can help. When possible, I like to share a meal to establish community and open people's hearts.

With a safe environment created, the Nardin visioning session participants were given the opportunity to speak without interruption. It's best to ask that everyone speak in the first person. The beginning of a visioning session is usually when people get things off of their chests. You will know when enough is enough, and then thank the participants. When people feel they have been heard and seen they are ready to create a vision and plan.

Like the entire project, the visioning session happened organically at Nardin Academy. Everyone present had insightful opinions and suggestions for what they would do with a magic wand and what roadblocks existed to keep that from happening. Uncovering the sticking points for each group of stakeholders becomes the foundation for what gets addressed when developing the strategy.

With a shared vision created, I worked with the leadership team on a five-year strategy. Beyond Green focuses goals in five areas:

  1. Quality and Environmental Impact of Food and Non-Food Items
  2. Waste Management Practices
  3. Energy Usage, Water Usage, and Air Quality
  4. Education and Awareness of Stakeholders and Community
  5. Policy and Planning

Each category has a series of customized goals that set annual benchmarks, incrementally getting closer to achieving the goals.

It's not the most important thing to hit all of the numbers in the strategy. What's important is to know that the project's heading into the deeper end of the sustainability pool and keeping everyone on track with that commitment. Change can be challenging. Addressing sustainability with a longer timeline helps our clients be more successful by transitioning rather than overhauling. But getting into the deeper end of the sustainability pool can only be done from measuring against the project's starting point and where the operator wants to go. If there is neither of these — it's simply "sustaina-babble".