Posted on: 20 September 2018
Sustainability is the buzzword of the moment. From Coca-Cola to Dell, organisations across the world have made eco-friendly and sustainable business practices a priority in 2018. Nowhere is this more apparent though than in the hospitality sector, where restaurants are doing away with plastic straws and Styrofoam cups in favour of sustainable alternatives.
So, what has spurred this change? The answer, it seems, boils down to simple mathematics. Today’s population (around 7 billion) is projected to rise to more than 9 billion by 2050. With a growing number of people to feed, and with annual crop yields decelerating yearly, the need to find a better way to grow, manage and consume food is not just important, it’s paramount.
Thankfully there are some reasons to be positive, at least here in the UK. Here we have a handful of organisations, such as the Sustainable Restaurant Association, WRAP and Red Tractor, who are pushing for better nationwide restaurant practices. We’ve even seen the upper echelons of fine-dining, such as Raymond Blanc, join the debate by suggesting that restaurant sustainability awards should be ranked above Michelin stars.
Does this signal the start of a sustainable restaurant revolution in the UK? Let’s dig down a little deeper.
Simplifying food production
While going organic is increasingly becoming the healthy and ethical choice, there is significant evidence to suggest that it is the most environmentally sound decision, too. For instance, the risk of water and soil contamination is greatly reduced when organic produce is made, thus boosting the chance of regrowth in the area.
It is for this reason, and others, that organic food and drink has grown significantly since 2012. In fact, just last year there was a growth of 6 per cent (to £2.2bn) in the UK.
One UK company making sustainable produce a priority is Pret A Manger. Their bestselling item, coffee, is 100 per cent organic, and so too is their milk – which is only sourced from local farms. In turn, it means transportation is reduced, local economies benefit from the financial weight of a multinational company, and Pret’s carbon footprint is reduced.
And it’s not just Pret. Food companies around the UK are already seeing the benefits of putting communities first. For instance, Marks & Spencer has established a Farming for the Future programme, which is designed to give local growers precedence over international growers.
One of these suppliers, the Meade Potato Company, has reduced their use of fungicides by 24 per cent and insecticides by 33 per cent since joining the programme. This has contributed towards M&S earning a spot in Forbes’ coveted ‘World’s Most Sustainable Companies’ list.
Sustainable meat and fish
Did you know a staggering 80 per cent of all life on Earth is found in our oceans? Unfortunately, this means that when their eco-systems are disrupted through irresponsible farming methods, such as through overfishing and coral sweeping, sea life struggles to survive.
To promote sustainable fish farming practices, some restaurants are implementing strict supplier selection policies. Feng Sushi in London, for instance, has built a reputation for responsible farming, using only Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) approved fish in its dishes. They also refuse to use any fish which is low in stock, in order to keep local overfishing to a minimum. You can find more eco-friendly restaurants by visiting the MSC website.
Likewise, many restaurants are choosing to only work with suppliers who breed ‘organic’ cattle. One example is Gourmet Burger Kitchen, who, according to their website, only use beef which is “traditionally reared and grass fed on independent farms across the South West counties”.
This change in approach means that Gourmet Burger Kitchen and many other restaurants are now contributing to less soil pollution and introducing more permeable grassland to surrounding areas. This is a huge step in the right direction, as concrete caging facilities often increase flood risks, as there is no soil for the rain to seep into.
Each year, the UK food sector produces 0.4 million tonnes of avoidable food waste. This waste is then delivered to landfills where it stagnates and produces methane - a powerful greenhouse gas.
One organisation which is making fantastic strides in this space is Too Good to Go, an app which gives restaurateurs a platform to sell food waste directly to its customers. The innovative app is currently working with more than 100 food companies across the UK, which includes franchises such as Yo! Sushi and AccorHotels. Since its launch in June 2016, Too Good to Go and its partners have saved more than 165,000 meals in the UK alone.
Packaging waste is another key consideration for restaurants. However, while there is still much to be done, WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Plan) notes that as many as 65 per cent of all packaging is recycled in restaurants, with returnable and reusable packaging two of the most effective methods. One company at the forefront of recycled packaging is Just Eat, who, as of March 2018, have stopped the sale of plastic packaging to restaurants from its partner shop. This has led to more than 29,000 restaurants operating largely plastic-free.
The catering industry consumes around 20,600 million kWh of energy each year – and research suggests that commercial kitchens can use up to ten times the amount of an average commercial building. In order to keep costs down, whilst reducing carbon footprints in tandem, restaurants are looking for more sustainable ways to run their kitchens.
One of these is Nando’s, who has started to change the way they design their restaurants. Today, 85 per cent of Nando’s across the country use LED lights. Variable extractor fans are also used to only consume energy when chefs are cooking; this alone has seen electrical energy savings of 37 per cent since their inception in 2016.
Investing in Sustainability
If you work in the food, hospitality or leisure industry, have you considered making sustainable practices a part of your business’s long-term plan? If you are investing in new stock, equipment or fixtures to assist in making your business more sustainable it’s important to check your investment is fully insured. Premier BusinessCare can arrange restaurant insurance, café insurance, sandwich bar insurance or takeaway insurance policies by comparing quotes from some of the UK's leading insurers.
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