The Illinois Food Scrap & Composting Coalition reached out to SAVOR, our valued Sustaining Platinum Member, and learned about their organics recycling program and so much more. After more than eight years with the food service company responsible for providing food and beverage service at McCormick Place, Doug Bradley, SAVOR VP Culinary, reflects on how SAVOR has approached sustainability in their day to day food operations. These measures include diverting overproduced food, as well as food preparation trim, from McCormick Place to various food rescue organizations.

Firstly, the event business at a convention center is largely a catering business which generally has a percentage of waste built into it. As an example, let’s assume an event has an expected attendance of 1000 people that they want to provide a lunch for. They assume that there will be some percentage of people that, while they may have registered and paid to attend the event, won’t actually attend for various reasons. The meeting planners will subtract the no-show element from the total number of lunches they request from the caterer but must buy enough to ensure everyone in attendance gets a meal. The degree to which the number is still over the number of attendees creates waste, both from related overproduction as well as from all trim and scrap related to the production process. Some of the overproduced food might be able to be saved and served at a later date, while some, along with the trim and scrap from preparation, is compostable.

In addressing these food waste challenges we have discovered and built upon a couple of courses of action.

Without a doubt, the single most important thing is being fortunate enough to have a team that shares the vision of operating sustainably. The SAVOR Team leadership has a clear vision of what the goal is and a keen understanding of what it will take to get there. This combines with amazing third-party consulting support and ownership that shares the intent to make Chicago’s convention business the greenest in the country.

Donating Food
Food donation and maximizing the contribution of overproduced food to people that need it the most has always been a focus both personally and for our Team. We have documented the donation of food from the first year SAVOR was awarded the contract at McCormick. It was during the Covid pandemic, however, that SAVOR drove the commitment to addressing food insecurity to levels previously unmatched in the convention and event business.

In 2020, SAVOR leadership was introduced to the organization Fight2Feed (F2F). They were in need of more space to manage the food donations that they were receiving from restaurants, food distributors, and grocery stores. F2F plans and prepares meals from these donated ingredients and arranges distribution.

After the initial meeting with F2F, we reviewed the space available in the East Kitchen, a large production space that was used to produce food for events held in the East Halls as well as for events that exceeded the food preparation capabilities of the other two kitchens at McCormick Place. Space was allocated for use by F2F, including dry storage, refrigeration, and access to the cooking battery and packaging space.


F2F was able to collect, prepare, and distribute more donated food by having access to portions of SAVOR’s East Kitchen. Additionally, SAVOR integrated donation of overproduced food from events via F2F directly into its operations at McCormick Place. This created a pipeline that efficiently moves good food from service areas in McCormick Place to people in underserved areas of Chicago.

An example of the success of the integration can be seen if the results of a recent large event at McCormick Place. An event had placed orders for 15,000 box lunches to be served to attendees at their trade show. The count turned out to be nearly 5000 attendees high. Quick coordination with Fight2Feed resulted in the meals being distributed that day to people that needed them.







Since the beginning of calendar year 2023 F2F has repurposed more than 29,000 pounds of food. This resulted in 21,000 portions being prepared for people in need.

This program has continued to not only serve the most important purpose of getting food that would otherwise have been wasted to people that needed it, but also to serve as an example of what is possible through the collaboration of entities committed to change and rethinking the way things have been. When this happens at the largest convention center in the Americas, it sets in place a model that other organizations will follow. An example of the interest that has been generated is the invitation for Fight2Feed and SAVOR to speak at The City of Chicago Mayor’s Office Food Matters Chicago Think Tank which in turn led to the SAVOR Team being used as a model for food service management in a Graduate Degree Program created by the Institute of Design.

Compost Program: Exceptional Performance- Highest And Best Use of Resources
Beyond food that has been managed effectively to safely provide food to neighbors that need it, composting biodegradable waste is also an important part of how we actively work to reduce waste to landfill at McCormick Place.

A critical first step is understanding the amount of waste generated as a baseline. Composting of waste by SAVOR at McCormick Place can be traced back to the start of the SAVOR Foodservice contract in 2011. On a routine basis, the waste generated in all categories has been measured and reviewed for ways that diversion can be increased or more effectively handled. This includes measuring the reuse of items where applicable, such as pallets, milk crates, and bread racks; working to increase the amount of food donations and focusing on the implementation of using only compostable service ware (boxes and lids, utensils, etc.).

This effort has been successful and will continue to increase our diversion rate, but where exceptional performance is encountered is with the installation of a Grind2Energy (G2E) system in 2018. This system consists of a large processing table located in a dedicated space near the South SAVOR Loading Dock, which is connected to a 3500 Gallon Holding Tank. Organic trim such as vegetable, fruit, and meat scraps are brought to the processing station where they are fed into a grinder that creates a slurry that is then pumped to the holding tank. When the tank fills it sends a notification that it needs to be emptied and a hauler pumps out the tank and takes the slurry to an anaerobic digester, currently one that is part of an Illinois State Wastewater Treatment Plant. There the product is mixed into the digester where it increases the amount of natural gas produced by the plant while adding to the amount of fertilizer produced during processing.

Components of the Grind to Energy system at SAVOR.

In addition, G2E provides reports that graphically represent information that can be shared with event organizers at McCormick Place to illustrate environmental impacts of the use of the G2E system. Since installation, 63 tons of waste have been processed via this system and thus diverted from landfill.

Always seeking new ways to increase the benefits derived from our sustainability efforts, SAVOR is now working on finalizing arrangements for the compostable slurry to go to a new anaerobic digester (Green Era) in the Englewood community in Chicago. Sending the product to the digester in Englewood will provide additional jobs in the community and provide the closed-loop system detailed below:

  • SAVOR buys produce grown in a 9-acre hyper-local urban farm collaborative located in Englewood (Urban Growers Collaborative {UGC})
  • Produce is used for events in McCormick Place, with trim, scraps, and leftovers being processed in the Grind2Energy system.
  • Grind2Energy slurry is sent to the Green Era digester where it is processed into natural gas and fertilizer.
  • Fertilizer is sold to UGC to grow their plants.

SAVOR has also continued to promote and showcase the use of the G2E system, providing tours and demonstrations to a wide range of individuals and organizations that could also implement this technology in their operations. This further demonstrates what’s possible with compostable materials and showcases food service at McCormick Place as a thought leader in the convention and events business.

As the event industry continues to focus on increasing the sustainability of meetings and conventions, it is ever more valuable to the City of Chicago and McCormick Place to provide the means to support verifiably sustainable conventions. Not only to reduce the environmental impact of the event activities themselves but also to showcase this as a competitive advantage to attract conventions and business travelers to our city. Demonstrating and documenting our commitment to this effort, SAVOR and the rest of the McCormick Place operations, food service, and ownership teams have worked collaboratively in the last several months to garner the Event Industry Council’s BPA certification. SAVOR has earned the nation’s first ever Bronze Certification in the new 2022 Standard for Foodservice. The intention behind certification is not only ensuring and promoting sustainable events, and committing to a more sustainable community, but also highlighting McCormick Place as a model of sustainability for other publicly-owned buildings to emulate and work with, raising the bar for the industry.