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Is a Zero–Food Waste Conference Possible?

Yes, thanks to local sourcing, whole-product utilization, and lots of effort from Changemaker Jackie Suggitt, ReFED

MeetingsNet’s annual Changemaker list recognizes 15 outstanding meetings professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find all the profiles here.

Jackie Suggitt

Stakeholder Engagement
Director, ReFED

For leading a successful effort to execute a zero-food-waste event


Making Change

When you’re in an organization that’s working to advance solutions to reduce the amount of food that goes to waste in the U.S., you want to do it right at your events. I was the team lead for the 2019 annual Food Waste Summit, which drew 400 attendees to San Francisco. Overall, we wanted the food to be good—fun, delicious, memorable—but we also wanted to “walk the walk” and make it a zero-waste event. We worked with Foxtail Catering to design a custom menu that included local sourcing and whole-product utilization, which means, for example, baking kale chips and juicing the raw scraps for juice shots. 

One of our meals showcased a creative way to work with caterers. Foxtail has a sister company that makes lunches for a tech company client in the Bay Area. Due to accurate demand forecasting, ordering and inventory management, they know exactly how many lunches they will be serving and therefore have little-to-no waste. So, for the Summit, we asked for the same lunch that was planned for the tech company, which allowed the caterer to source in bulk and eliminate waste. 

We also used aggressive meal-attrition calculations. We never came up short. Of course, we work on food waste; so, for us, it would have been easier to tell the story of running out of food than of having too much. In the end, the conference only had 27 pounds of food that wasn’t consumed over the three-day event, and that was donated through our partner Copia. 

What’s Next?

At our next face-to-face meeting, I want to bring our success stories center stage. I think we did a great job of showcasing the food but not necessarily of telling the stories behind it. I would like to give attendees visibility into where the leftovers go and how some of our practices at the conference can be incorporated into their own lives. 

Another change I’d like to push for is more vegetable-centered meals. We had a pretty diverse menu in terms of vegetarian and meat options, but the feedback we got was that, from a climate perspective, we could have had more vegetarian options. 

Thinking differently

There is always a desire to meet face to face; the humanity in us wants to strive for that. However, we have long known the environmental impact of travel and the current pandemic is forcing new ways of working. I’m intrigued by the challenge of finding ways to liven up virtual meetings and drive connectivity through them. How can we make them awesome experiences? 

Best Advice 

The best advice I ever received was “The fun starts at no.” You can’t view barriers as defeat. I don’t think any significant change has happened without a few no’s along the way. 

Best Advice You Give

Ask a ton of questions. Even when I think I understand something, if I keep probing, I always learn more. Change doesn’t happen if we’re satisfied with the answers we have.

Role Model

My mom has the highest integrity of anyone I’ve ever met. She taught me that you never have to sacrifice your integrity to advance your career, and she was a very successful businesswoman. She also stressed that no matter what you’re doing, there’s always a human element to it and a way to be working toward improving the world. 

Spare Hour

I live in Vancouver, Canada. If you have free time here, you’re outside. It’s a beautiful place. I’m a big trail runner so if I have free time, I like to hit the trails. It’s where I do both my best thinking—and my best lack of thinking. It’s where I unplug.



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