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The Catering Company With A Conscience

By Pamela Sosnowski

One of the downsides to ordering a catered meal for an event is disposing of the non-food waste - such as plastic utensils and styrofoam containers - that unfortunately get tossed into the trash. Cambridge-based Basil Tree however, is hoping to change all that. The catering company is one of the few that uses 100% compostable paper goods and napkins made from sugar cane fiber pulp. The differences may not be noticeable to guests who are simply enjoying the food, but knowing the trash won't hurt the environment makes the company's staff very happy.

"I would say that it is unusual, to my knowledge, for caterers to integrate earth friendly practices into all aspects of their business," says Jaime Guyon, who manages customer relations. "Our earth-conscious approach informs the business by influencing our choices for products and vendors, prioritizing the local and sustainable."

Basil Tree was founded by Valerie Shulock, a woman with no formal culinary training, but a passion for starting her own business. As a child she would make and sell her own hand crafted jewelry, and while attending graduate school she produced and sold fresh soups. In 1987, she launched Basil Tree Inc. with the help of some friends, preparing pasta salads for local cafes and take-out businesses. Now Basil Tree Catering & Cafe has a Fresh Pond café serving lunch and beverages and a drop-off catering company with favorites that include mango lime chicken, Southwest sweet potato salad and Pad Thai. The menu offers a selection of breakfast items, sandwiches, wraps, soups, and vegan and gluten-free options and more.

The environmentally-friendly materials were incorporated well before "going green" became popular in the U.S. Over 90% of the waste that the company produces is recycled or composted. In addition to the compostable plates and napkins, Basil Tree takes other measures to reduce the business's carbon footprint as much as possible. The cooking oil they use is recycled into biofuel. Cutlery, cups, and clear containers are made from corn products, and delivery trips get combined whenever possible.

The company also created a program called the Basil Bin. "Leftover platters and serving ware can be deposited into a large green bin we leave at the delivery to be picked up by our drivers the next day," explains Guyon. "This way we can save our customers from needing to dispose of these items and we can sanitize and reuse all of the remaining items for our own reuse. It's a win-win!"

Another way Basil Tree gives back is by donating 10% of its annual profits to local and regional charities. These have included Waltham Community Farms, Community Cooks, and the Eagle Eye Institute.

All of this plus a commitment to providing a positive work environment contributes to the company's mission: to "make a difference" where they can.

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