Healthy Lunch Options Sprout Up at DIRTT

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Andree Iffrig
Andree Iffrig
Andree Iffrig, LEED AP, works at DIRTT Environmental Solutions, the manufacturer of the Breathe living wall system.

The buzz of conversation and laughter grows as the lunchtime lineup at DIRTT Environmental Solutions snakes past the Greens Cafeteria serving counter. Employee health is top-of-mind here.

It’s chicken souvlaki today, with rice and fresh steamed asparagus as well as the usual salad, cold meats, and cheeses. Vegetarians head for a steaming tray of freshly made butternut squash pasta, and the meat lovers are all smiles at the leftover roast beef and Yorkshire pudding from a company-sponsored event the evening before. And for those who still have room, bowls of fresh fruit and some not-so-low calorie desserts line one counter.


Professional chefs prepare meals like this seven days week at DIRTT’s facilities in Calgary, AB; Kelowna, BC; Savannah, GA; and Phoenix, AZ. Breakfast and a steady supply of snacks are part of the equation as well. The cost to employees is $2 a day.

A subsidized meal program is much more than benevolent capitalism at DIRTT, which designs and builds customized, environmentally friendly prefab interior solutions for buildings. It’s a powerful recruiting and retention tool in a highly competitive job market. It speaks to the company’s commitment to “walk the talk” in promoting sustainable business environments and practices.

Founder and CEO Mogens Smed said, “Providing meals at work is just the right thing to do.”

Having in-house restaurants not only reduces DIRTT’s carbon footprint because employees don’t have to drive elsewhere for lunch, but it also gives staff healthier food options.

Said Mogens, “Employees from all parts of the business enjoy communal feasts on a daily basis. It’s just another example of how we are building a family at DIRTT where every employee is valued equally and importantly.”

DIRTTbags, as employees proudly call themselves, share their CEO’s enthusiasm for the program.

Software developer Greg McCleary said, “I use it every morning. I grab a piece of fresh fruit, some coffee and engage in casual conversation with whoever is around. I might talk about things I’m working on or I’ll ask about a co-worker’s weekend. It’s a great start to my day.”

Architectural intern Hannah Perry added, “We’re in a food desert in an industrial park and what’s close by isn’t appetizing, or you have to drive farther and wait for service during the lunch-hour rush. Eating here is more convenient and we keep our environmental footprint as small as possible. We compost everything, including cooking oil, and less food is thrown out. We actually encourage people to take leftovers home.”

Heather Hamilton, who works in Learning and Development, said it offers a chance for camaraderie that employees would not ordinarily get. “It doesn’t contribute directly to projects but it allows you to develop friendships in the company, and that makes a difference when you need help – you know who to go to.”

The dining ambience at DIRTT is as important as the meals themselves. Interior Designer Debbie Carruthers created spaces that are multifunctional and fun. It’s not too formal or too casual, as it serves everyone from factory workers to clients and guests.

The Calgary location features a translucent wall with color-changing backlighting. Multiple LED monitors display a stream of company news and photos, or can be used for client, community or staff presentations. When severe spring floods struck Calgary last spring, Greens even hosted a wedding and reception for a couple whose downtown venue had been inundated.

In addition to feeding DIRTT’s strong collaborative culture, the program directly impacts the bottom line. DIRTT’s headquarters are in Calgary, Canada’s oil and gas capital, and the energy sector offers substantially higher wages than other sectors.

Business Development specialist and long-time DIRTTbag Julie Pithers said that, as a manufacturer, DIRTT faces strong wage competition.

“We have to find other ways to attract and retain the best DIRTTbags. The meal program probably stands out the most in attracting the kind of talent we value.”

Julie added that “providing a healthy and filling hot lunch every day shows our teams that their health and happiness are important to us. It promotes a healthy lifestyle and reduces our carbon footprint. Dining in-house opens more opportunities for meeting fellow employees and building culture. And the more we know each other, the more we can enjoy work and the social atmosphere.”

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