6 Holiday employee engagement ideas for good causes

6 Holiday employee engagement ideas for good causes

The winter holidays offer an ideal opportunity to re-engage your employees, whether they work remotely or in the office. It’s a time to acknowledge and celebrate all that your team has overcome and accomplished this past year. But it’s also a challenging time of year for many—including, perhaps, your team members. So, for those of you who are looking for fun and festive, yet meaningful holiday employee engagement ideas, this is for you. Get into the holiday spirit by giving back, volunteering, donating, and supporting good causes as a team.   

Giving back and doing good makes you feel good

When you help someone in need or support a good cause, you’re not just helping them or the cause. You’re also helping yourself. (And everyone on your team.) 

“When people are altruistic and generous, it creates a response in the brain that taps into positive emotions,” explains Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist and research director at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health. “The brain also produces and releases neurotransmitters and hormones, such as dopamine and oxytocin, that help us feel happiness and pleasure.”

Doing good makes you feel good. It gives you a sense of purpose, gratitude, happiness, and connectedness—with yourself, your team, and anyone else involved. That good feeling stays with you too. Giving back has also been known to help reduce stress and support better health and wellness. It’s a win-win.

With so much going on in the world, there are unlimited ways to help. Come together as a team this holiday season and decide what causes are most important to you. Are they social or humanitarian? Environmental? Economic? All of the above? Local? Country-wide? 

Dig in and get creative on engaging your team in festive, fun, and truly meaningful activities this holiday season. Here are some ideas to help get started. 

6 Good causes and employee engagement ideas for this holiday season

7 Good causes and employee engagement ideas for this holiday season

1. Give holiday gifts that support a good cause

It’s the thought behind a gift that truly counts. Last Christmas, I received a gift certificate explaining that I helped protect an Old Growth Forest because the gift-giver donated funds to the charity on my behalf. Both the gift-giver and I loved the idea that we were supporting a meaningful cause, and it helped the organization continue to do their great work for the planet.  

Why not do a Secret Santa where every gift is a small donation to a charity of your choice? For instance, Second Harvest has a Shopify gift catalogue where anyone can provide a meal for Canadians in need. As little as $5 will provide enough food for over ten healthy meals for Canadians who are struggling with food insecurity this holiday season. 

Give holiday gifts that support a good cause

2. Host a fundraising holiday party and donate the proceeds

For all those who have their hearts set on a staff holiday party, why not add a good-cause element to it? Make it a holiday fundraiser. You could get local businesses to donate items and do a raffle or an auction. Have a donation bucket or a holiday bake sale. Or, you could charge employees a nominal ticket price where all proceeds go to a good cause. 

There are many great ways to fundraise and show your support for non-profits and good causes any time of year. 

3. Make a monetary donation

Funding keeps organizations that fight for good causes afloat. Find your collective favourite cause and/or organization and donate in honour of your team. Your support makes all the difference, especially during the winter holidays, but any day, week, or month of the year. 

Giving this holiday season, after all, helps you and all those you support. 

Donate to help us rescue food and feed Canadians this winter holiday. 

4. Pledge to volunteer as a team for a good cause

Volunteering together as a team is one of the best ways to engage your employees in person around a good cause this holiday season. Once you’ve chosen a good cause you want to support, look into local volunteering opportunities. Many groups look for volunteering opportunities during the holiday season but it’s important to note that volunteers are needed year-round. Consider scheduling a regular commitment to volunteer monthly or quarterly with your team or engaging with non-profits outside of the holiday season. Quite often, non-profits are unable to satisfy all of the requests to volunteer in December, but find themselves short-handed during other times of the year.

Reach out to organize holiday volunteering. Give employees time off to volunteer. Then, host a team get-together afterwards to celebrate. 

Volunteer with Second Harvest to help rescue food waste and feed Canadians.

5. Donate surplus food

If you’re in the Canadian food industry, you can start donating your surplus food. Second Harvest rescues donated surplus food and redistributes it to Canadians in need. , Donating your surplus food helps reduce your businesses’ carbon footprint, as food waste is a huge greenhouse gas contributor. We redistribute it to food charities such as food banks, soup kitchens, churches, community centres, and school programs across Canada that feed people good, healthy meals daily.  

Learn more about donating good, healthy food surplus in Canada with Second Harvest

No matter what industry you work in, you and your team can buy meals for food-insecure families and individuals in Canada through Second Harvest. 

Donate food or buy a meal for someone in need: Winter holiday employee engagement ideas

6. Ask your employer to match employee donations

Employer-matching donations double the impact and when paired with employee teams can significantly increase the support to non-profits, like Second Harvest. This corporate philanthropy approach is a structured way for companies to get behind the good work being done in communities, as well as elevate their corporate social responsibility profile. But most importantly, the gifts or donation go twice as far.

How food businesses can make impactful climate changes for good

How food businesses can make impactful climate changes for good

 A business case for reducing food loss and waste (FLW) in North America to help reduce our climate impact. Based on key findings from Second Harvest and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), a joint webinar from October 2022

Organizations in the food industry are always working toward reducing food loss and waste (FLW). It’s time to double down on our efforts because current climate crisis and rising food insecurity are urgent issues. 

In Canada, 11.2 million tonnes—$49.46 billion worth—of good food is wasted every year. Globally, more than 8% of greenhouse gas emissions come from FLW. These harmful emissions directly contribute to our current climate crisis. Of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, goal 12 is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. One of its key targets is 12.3 on global food loss and waste:

By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

Food loss and waste (FLW) in North America across the supply chain per million tonnes per year.

It’s not just food that we’re wasting—it’s also the finite resources used to make, process, package, transport, sell and buy it. For example:

  1. We could fill 7 Million Olympic-sized swimming pools with the water footprint of FLW in North America every year. 
  2. 41 million cars would have to drive continuously for a year to equal the annual greenhouse gases of FLW in North America. 
  3. 260 million people could be fed every year with lost and wasted food. 

How reducing food loss and waste improves your business’s bottom line

Steps Food Businesses Can Take To Reduce Their Climate Impact

If your factory throws away $5,000 worth of produce every month for various reasons, including spillage, grade issues, market rejection, or trimming during processing, that’s a $60,000 annual loss on your bottom line. It’s also a wasted opportunity. What if that loss could be used in a new product or re-invested into solutions to prevent waste in the first place?

One problem is that a lot of businesses either haven’t or don’t know how to measure food loss and waste. 

Start there and we can better understand the scope of our impact—and make important changes to be more sustainable. As Second Harvest and the CEC say in our joint webinar on FLW

“What gets measured, gets managed.” 

How to measure and manage your business’s food loss and waste

Find your why: What’s motivating your business to change?

Determine why your business wants to measure, prevent and reduce FLW. 

  • Is it economic, environmental, social, or a combination? 
  • Is it because your organization cares about sustainability? 
  • Is it to be competitive or keep up with the times?
  • Does it fit into your mission values and vision—or company culture? 
  • Is it to improve your bottom line and efficiencies?
  • Is it important to your business to lessen your footprint on the climate crisis or to help relieve food insecurity?

Find your purpose(s) and use it (/them) as your driving motivation. 

Steps for businesses to take to reduce food loss and waste to help the climate crisis

Make your business case to tackle FLW for our climate

What if food loss and waste were not just a cost of doing business? What if the environmental, economic and social benefits of preventing and reducing FLW far outweighed the cost to change? 

Here are some facts from our 2022 Wasted Opportunity report to reference: 

  1. 3.2M tonnes of surplus edible food is produced by Canada’s food industry each year
  2. 96% of it is not rescued or redistributed for human consumption
  3. 127,177 Canadian food businesses are potential donors of surplus edible food donors—your food business may be one of them

Updating your business systems to be more sustainable 

The CEC has many great helpful resources to help guide you, including a Business Cost Calculator of FLW. They also have practical guides on how to measure FLW, find the root causes, make system changes and measure impact. Make your business case by calculating the amount and cost of FLW and determining its causes, solutions and benefits for change. To do this, you’ll need to take a close look at the specific causes of FLW in your organization.

CEC table of some causes of food loss and waste along the food supply chain.
Caption: CEC table of some causes of FLW along the food supply chain.

Once you’ve determined the root causes, track them in a daily log. You may find that some reasons for FLW happen regularly or in high volumes and should be prioritized. For example, of the millions of tomatoes that are grown each year in Canada, it is expected that hundreds of thousands won’t make it to market.  

“We live in an environment where food is cheap and plentiful and few people have experienced hunger or food insecurity. Therefore societal attitudes do not support avoiding food waste.” 

—Survey Respondent, Second Harvest’s Report on The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste

It’s time to get solution-focused. Do it for climate, community and your bottom line. Together, we can make a real impact. 

Learn more about food loss and waste and how your business can measure, manage and reduce it. Register to donate your surplus food.

The Circular Economy and Rethinking Waste in Canada

The Circular Economy and Rethinking Waste in Canada

For the past two decades in Canada, the third week of October has marked Waste Reduction Week. But educating and empowering Canadians to overhaul their consumption habits requires time. That’s why the Circular Innovation Council extended October’s Waste Reduction Week to help Canadians better understand the issues of waste and opportunities to change as we shift toward a circular economy. October is now Canada’s first-ever Circular Economy Month, which includes Waste Reduction Week. 

In honour of Circular Economy Month, we’ll look at what a circular economy is and how it can help us rethink—and renew—our relationship with waste in Canada. 

What is a Circular Economy?

In a traditional linear economy, we produce, consume and then toss our waste into landfills. Or as the Circular Innovation Council puts it, we “take—make—waste.” Waste is the end of the resource’s lifecycle and the cost of doing business. A circular economy, on the other hand, is an entirely different way of thinking about resources and their value.  

You may already know about the 3 R’s of recycling: to reduce, reuse and recycle. These everyday terms are just the tip of the iceberg of what a circular economy is all about. In a circular economy, the 3 R’s mean that we must:

  • Reduce: minimize our use of and need for raw materials and resources 
  • Reuse: maximize the longevity and durability of products 
  • Recycle: increase the quality of raw materials used so that they can be recycled and reused in subsequent forms over and over again

In a circular economy, nothing is wasted or considered waste. Everything has value, even “waste” and (almost) everything can be renewed so that waste is minimized drastically. 

The Pillars of a Circular Economy

As expert educators and innovators on the topic in Canada, the Circular Innovation Council says it best:

“The circular economy is regenerative where everything is valued, resources are more efficiently used, nothing is wasted, and everything is a resource that can be fed back into the beginning of production cycles in a closed-loop system.”   

Let’s unpack that statement before moving on because the council touched on many key points. 

  1. Everything is valued
  2. Resources are more efficiently used
  3. Nothing is wasted
  4. Everything is a resource that can be renewed to close the production cycle loop

Thinking Differently About Waste in a Sustainable Future

If we think about closing the loop on our current linear economy of production, consumption and waste, then waste—our current end product—must be renewed so that it can be consumed again and again. Renewing resources that would otherwise go to waste can be done in many ways. For instance, we could reuse, remanufacture, repurpose, repair, refurbish, redistribute, remake, or recycle them over and over. (Even more R’s!) For this to happen, however, the initial product needs to be designed and made to last in all of its forms.

Caption: The Circular Economy in Practice by the Circular Innovation Council

Why is a Circular Economy Important to Reducing our Waste?

The way that our traditional linear economies take, make and waste resources puts too much pressure on our systems and environment. For instance, 58% of all of the food produced in Canada is lost or wasted. Every year. That is 35.5 million metric tonnes of food loss and waste, which is unsustainable for our land, water and other resource use, communities, economies and public health. Circular economies, on the other hand, have the power to save money and resources. It can also reduce waste and create new opportunities and markets for businesses and individuals. 

In keeping with overhauling Canada’s food systems, Second Harvest’s food rescue helps connect businesses and individuals with surplus food to those organizations in need of food.

We’re on a mission to grow our innovative, efficient food recovery network to fuel people and reduce the environmental impact of avoidable food waste. Surplus of potatoes on a farm, for instance, can be rescued and redistributed to organizations that help feed food-insecure community members across the country. Take, make, rescue, redistribute, share and consume. 

We all have a role to play in making circular economies work. 

Join in and do Your Part to Limit Waste this October

Thanks to Circular Economy Month and Waste Reduction Week, there is a wealth of information at Canadians’ fingertips to explore and learn. Transitioning away from an unsustainable and wasteful economic model takes a collaborative effort on everyone’s part, from governments and businesses to individual consumers.  

Here are some ways you can get involved this October and beyond:

Top (Free) Resources on How to Stop Food Waste

Top (Free) Resources on How to Stop Food Waste

Food waste is a challenge that spans far beyond Canada’s borders—and so do its solutions. As Canada’s largest food rescue organization, Second Harvest has dedicated much of our time, energy, and thought into growing an online library of free resources, tools, e-learning, research, and blogs that will help all of us put an end to food waste at home (wherever that may be). 

Here is a collection of our top food waste resources to help us all in our collective mission to eliminate food waste for good. But before we jump in, here is a little food for thought to help inspire you to make new (and good) food habits. 

Food For Thought on Reducing Waste

From Stop Food Waste Day to Waste Reduction Week and Circular Economy Month in Canada, these annual awareness days are meant to educate, inspire, and ignite change. All of us must overhaul our consumption habits in order to make a real impact. We must place a higher value on our resources, including those that helped put food on our plates.

Take a carrot, for instance. In order to grow a carrot, a farmer took the time, effort, and resources to prepare the land, plant the seed, water it, weed, fertilize, spray, and then harvest it, before a manufacturer washes, sorts, cuts, destems, packages, markets, sells, and ships it to a distributor, who then transports it to your grocery store. It took time, money, energy, freshwater, soil, sun, seeds, fertilizer, sprays, labour, packaging, refrigeration, and fuel to get that carrot to you. 

A carrot, therefore, is so much more than just a carrot. It is all of the precious and often finite resources that went into getting it from the farm to your plate. And all of that combined is why we must stop food waste. 

Explore These Resources and Stop Food Waste for Good 

Bookmark this post and refer back to it on your journey toward a sustainable food future. Together, we’ve got this! 

Top (Free) Resources on How to Stop Food Waste - Second Harvest

The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste Report

Did you know that 58% of all food in Canada is lost or wasted—and that 32% of that could be redirected to feed Canadians? In a first-of-its-kind report, The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste demonstrates the need to radically change how we value food. The report follows a year-long research project by Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International, a leading public and industry voice in food waste. Among many other findings, they discovered that every year, 56.5 million metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions are created by food waste in Canada. 

Explore the Report and Arm Yourself With Facts That Inspire You to Make Big Changes

Second Harvest’s Blogs on Food Waste Reduction

We’re experts in the field of food rescue and waste reduction—and we’ve done the research for you! Check out our collection of blog posts on food waste to find more statistics, hopeful stories, thought leadership articles, and inspiring tips, tricks, and challenges to start doing at home and at work. 

Here are some of our top blog posts on food waste to help you get started and inspired:   

Explore Second Harvest’s Food Waste Articles.

Top (Free) Resources on How to Stop Food Waste - Second Harvest

Second Harvest’s Get Involved at Home Tips

Second Harvest’s Food Rescue App helps businesses donate food to local non-profits and organizations in need of it. In other words, we help organizations both give and receive food. At home, we can all do our part to be food rescuers—and this page is an excellent place to start for Stop Food Waste Day.  

Visit this site to find helpful links and ways to get involved in food waste reduction at home. Tips include eating “ugly” produce and getting creative with leftovers or wilting produce. There are also links to get even more involved by volunteering with or donating to Second Harvest or signing up for our monthly Harvest Journal, sent via email. 

Find Out How to Get Involved at Home.

Top (Free) Resources on How to Stop Food Waste - Second Harvest

Free Online Workshops on Food Waste Prevention Training

Second Harvest offers free online workshops, including several quick e-learning courses based on Food Waste Prevention. These workshops give businesses, corporations, individuals, and non-profits strategies, challenges, solutions, and tips to maximize food, while reducing unnecessary and environmentally harmful waste (and spending). 

Some of the food waste prevention e-learnings include:

  • Food Date Labelling
  • A Guide to Food Date Labelling
  • A Donor Guide to Food Recovery
  • Food Storage
  • Food Waste Audit

Discover Second Harvest’s Food Waste Prevention Training.

Help us Stop Food Waste Every Day

Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization. Last year, we rescued 41 million pounds of food that would have gone to waste and sent it to Canadians in need. That’s equivalent to averting 162 million pounds of greenhouse gases from the environment. Second Harvest works across the food supply chain to stop food waste and support hunger relief in Canada. But we’ve never done it alone. We all have to do our part to stop food waste both in our homes, our communities, and at our workplaces. 

Learn More About Second Harvest and How You Can Help.

Summer’s Arctic Shipment: When Nunavut’s Sea Ice Melts, Food Rescue Delivers

Summer’s Arctic Shipment: When Nunavut’s Sea Ice Melts, Food Rescue Delivers

In the summer of 2021, a partnership between Second Harvest and Arctic Co-operatives Limited (Arctic Co-ops) was formed. Together, we delivered 61,700 pounds of rescued food from the Greater Toronto Area directly to community members and food banks throughout Nunavut by sealift. The remote communities that received shipments were so grateful—explaining that anything we can send them helped—that we did it again the moment that the sea ice melted and ships could go north in the summer of 2022.

This is the story of how Second Harvest and Arctic Co-ops partnered for a second year to ship food rescued by Second Harvest in spring 2022 to send on three different sailings to the shores of dozens of Nunavut’s remote communities throughout the summer. 

Caption: Unloading an NSSI ship in Nunavut in June 2022 to deliver to the shores of remote communities.

From Spring in Southern Canada to Summer in Nunavut: Organizing a Logistical Feat

The Harvest Journal team had the pleasure of connecting with Marie-José Mastromonaco​, Second Harvest’s Head of Operations for Quebec and Nunavut. When we spoke in early July 2022, the first summer shipment (10,785 pounds of food rescue; the second sealift was set to deliver 32,690 pounds) had already left the port in Montreal and was sailing north on its two-week journey to the first communities receiving Second Harvest’s donation. 

“This is an amazing project for the simple reason that these communities are so far away that for anything to be shipped, we start planning in April for the first sail at the end of June when the sea ice melts,” Marie-José said. 

“All of that time is organizing and overcoming very challenging logistics. We have to find the products that have a best-before date that is far away enough for it to make sense to ship. But of course, we’re dealing with rescued food surplus that most often is coming near its best-before date.” 

“From the moment that we decide that those are the products that we have to send and they want them, they won’t get them for 4 or 5 months. So it’s not like when we have food surplus in Toronto, it leaves the warehouse and a few hours later, many organizations receive the food. For us, 10 organizations will receive the food, but in months.”

Caption: Photo of one of Arctic Co-op’s ships full of supplies, deliveries, and food in Northern Canadian waters. 

Arctic Co-op and NSSI Ship Second Harvest’s Food Rescue to Nunavut

The shipping company is Nunavut Sealink and Supply Inc. (NSSI), an Inuit majority-owned Nunavut-based company with a sizeable fleet of multipurpose cargo ships and tankers. NSSI’s main shareholder is Arctic Co-op, Second Harvest’s partner. These Arctic Co-ops are independent stores in Nunavut communities that represent the interests of thousands of Inuit members and sell and distribute local foods, traditional arts and crafts and furs. 

“A lot of the communities don’t have grocery store facilities, but the ones that do, it is the Arctic Co-op,” Marie-José said. Once Second Harvest organizes and packs the food rescue for each community, the GetPaq puts it in the sea can for that community, packs it on the NSSI vessels and ships them north to communities, regardless if they have a store or not there. These hamlet communities don’t have ports though, so the sea cans are often dropped right on the beach and community members unload and distribute them.

Caption: An Arctic Co-op grocery store in Nunavut.

Sending Non-Perishable Rescued Food to Northern Canada 

When we spoke, Marie-José was in the middle of coordinating the next shipment of 26 pallets or 32,690 pounds of non-perishable food and supplies. This required dividing and labelling each shipment by pallets to be delivered to nine individual communities, including Nunavut’s capital of Iqaluit as well as Cambridge Bay, Clyde River, Sanirajak, Kugluktuk, Qikiqtarjuak and others, set to receive this second shipment. A lot of the first logistics in rescuing the suitable donations is being handled by the team led by Ian Gibbon at Second Harvest.

All the food being shipped is shelf-stable and includes products that the Inuit communities will use. Some of the shipments had canned goods, including tuna and dried goods, such as cereal, oatmeal, baby cereal, as well as baby puree and vitamins. All of this rescued food was donated to Second Harvest by organizations and businesses that, for one reason or another, had a surplus. 

“We’re sending pallets so we have to think that we’re sending it to a community of 1,000 people and those people are 150-200 families, so they won’t use all of that cereal, for instance, all in one week. It has to last in time for months. So all of that logistical planning has to revolve around best before dates to make sure that the products are going to last and are good for their cultural diet.” 

Caption: Nunavut’s capital of Iqaluit on a summer day at Frobisher Bay in the arctic circle. Image by @carodownunder via Destination Nunavut.

Locals Receiving Food Rescue Shipments in Nunavut 

Marie-José explained that finding folks in those remote hamlets who can actually receive, unload, distribute and store the donations is the most challenging part of the Arctic shipments. “Say someone somewhere in Nunavut opens a food bank, but then they don’t receive food for months until summer’s melt, the food banks or other community organizations are often run by volunteers, which sometimes makes it difficult to stay functional. Then we need to make another connection. It happens a lot, unfortunately.” 

Marie-José explained why it can be so hard to find community members to receive donations in the first place. “It’s very logistically challenging to coordinate with such remote places,” she said. “Phone lines [or landlines] exist, but it is very hard to reach anyone and there is a language barrier, plus the internet is spotty or non-existent in some parts. It makes things extra complicated.” 

That’s another reason why Arctic Co-op is so essential to making this partnership work. But even those communities that don’t have an Arctic Co-op might receive shipments from our partnership together. From the Arctic Co-op’s 2021 annual report: “Additionally, we helped facilitate the delivery of food bank contributions for the people in Clyde River, NU despite not having a Co-op to support in that community; it was simply the right thing to do. Arctic Co-operatives worked together in partnership with Second Harvest and Food Banks Canada to help overcome the distribution challenges of the Arctic and supply food to several communities.”

Waiting for Summer Shipments in Remote Nunavut Communities 

“If you miss the boat, you miss the boat!” Marie-José said of shipping goods north every summer. The NSSI ships are already full of other sea cans with items like cars, clothing, building materials, snowmobiles and all kinds of deliveries that people bought throughout the past year and they’re on the first boat up there. “Everything is sent by sea cans on boats,” she said. “Unless it’s sent by plane, but that’s very expensive so most people wait for summer, especially for the heavy stuff.” 

Caption: Unloading pallets of supplies for an Arctic Co-op location in the winter of 2021.

Sea cans are most often dropped right on the beach. “Community members unload and distribute everything,” she said. “They don’t have a port like the port of Montreal; they don’t have the infrastructure for that.”

“Most communities are just happy that we’re thinking of them. Without our partners though, we wouldn’t be able to help them. And once we helped them once, it honestly feels so amazing for Second Harvest to be able to and be allowed to help them. And they need the help.” 

“I thank you very much and I wish you many blessings for your good work to lessen the hunger in the world.”

—Dorica, Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut

Caption: The Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre team in Nunavut with a delivery of laundry detergent from the summer of 2021 shipment.