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Wellness, green initiatives planned for government buildings

WASHINGTON Responding to a challenge from President Obama to improve the health of federal employees, the General Services Administration is now requiring on-site foodservice providers at government buildings to offer wellness and sustainability programs.

The programs will be featured in the requests for proposal, or RFPs, when federal accounts go out for bid, said John Cornyn, co-founder of the Portland, Ore.-based Cornyn-Fasano Group consultancy. Cornyn has been given a leadership role in the implementation of the wellness and sustainability project.

Cornyn said his role is to facilitate the program’s implementation and act as a liaison between the GSA and contract foodservice management companies.

“The objective is to introduce wellness and sustainability into the federal system, and the intent is for the first phase to kick in by the end of March,” he said. “We will look forward to incremental improvements thereafter.”

The sustainable part of the GSA’s plan will require contractors to incorporate green practices into their cafeteria operations. Those practices would include purchasing local and organic foods, composting waste, conducting energy-saving practices, using cleaning services that adhere to Green Seal environmental standards and participating in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, green building rating system.

On the wellness side, contractors would be tasked with offering more healthful food options, encouraging healthful choices through product placement, providing more nutritional information, offering hormone-free products, eliminating or greatly reducing the use of trans fat and saturated fats in foods, and using a nutritionist during the menu development phase.

“The wellness part is about introducing food items that are inherently healthy,” Cornyn said. “What [the GSA is] trying to do is get customers to pick food items that are going to contribute to well being and health.”

In addition, he said, the government will offer education to federal employees and encourage them to exercise.

"The intent is to produce a totally integrated education program that will be implemented over a period of time," Cornyn said.

The first two government agencies participating in the program are the State Department and the Department of the Interior, Cornyn said. The State Department contract currently is held by Fairfax, Va.-based Guest Services Inc., but it is now up for bid. The cafeteria at the Department of the Interior has been closed for the past 18 months, but it is expected to reopen shortly and that contract will be put out for bid, too.

Guest Services said it remains “cautiously optimistic” about retaining the contract at the State Department, which it has held for the past 35 years. However, the company is concerned about additional costs that would be associated with the sustainability program.

“GSA is our client so we will do whatever they ask us to do," said Chris Rohr, a Guest Services spokeswoman. "That said, there is always conversation to be had. A lot of those environmental initiatives are costlier to implement so we’ll have to figure out a way to make them happen so everyone can be satisfied.

"But we are already doing a lot of things on our own, with or without the GSA requesting us to do it." she added. "We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].

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