In terms of restaurant management, sustainability is more than just a buzzword or an offshoot of the “farm-to-table” craze. It’s about the impact a restaurant has on the environment and society. Restaurateurs and chefs have a unique opportunity to drive change by serving as an example to their customers and local communities. But many may not know what being a sustainable restaurant really means. The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) has broken the concept down into three separate areas (Society, Environment, and Sourcing) to create an all-encompassing definition of this movement. Review the list below and see what you can do to make your restaurant more sustainable.
- Community Engagement – Reach out to your neighbors and forge lasting relationships with your customers, vendors, and business partners. Be a part of your community, host fundraisers for local charities, chip in during times of crisis by feeding first responders or helping victims of natural disasters, and/or donate your time/expertise to nonprofits, boards, or town committees. Helping your neighbors not only makes you feel good; it’s also a great way to get to know your customers and promote your business.
- Fair Treatment for All – Do the right thing when dealing with employees, suppliers, and customers. Follow the golden rule in your endeavors and stand up for the equitable treatment of everyone, regardless of whether or not it directly involves your business.
- Healthy Eating – Restaurants have a critical role to play in preparing food that is nutritious and wholesome. Eating out doesn’t have to be overly indulgent or unhealthy, and chefs have a duty and responsibility to help their customers make the right choices about the foods they eat. Take the time to find healthier ingredients and experiment with your recipes to cut out things like trans fats and processed carbohydrates.
- Responsible and Ethical Marketing – When it comes to your restaurant’s practices, be completely honest and transparent. Don’t pay lip service to sustainability and don’t engage in “greenwashing” or “green sheen.” It does no good to exaggerate your efforts, embellish the effects of policy changes, or lie about your dedication to sustainability.
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- Water Conservation – Saving water isn’t just good for Mother Nature; it’s good for the restaurant’s bottom line as well. Simple steps like installing low-flow pre-rinse spray valves, scraping dishes and pots/pans to minimize the use of the garbage disposal, presoaking cookware and utensils instead of rinsing them, and only running the dishwasher when it’s completely full are all great ways to reduce the amount of water your kitchen uses.
- Workplace Supplies/Components – Take a second look at the resources your restaurant utilizes. Everything from paper products and cleaners to the construction materials that make up the building have an effect on the Earth. Lessen your eatery’s footprint by selecting environmentally friendly options whenever and wherever possible.
- Supply Chain/Logistics – Ensure that your operation adheres to responsible supply chain practices. Research vendors thoroughly and investigate options that can decrease your restaurant’s impact on the environment. Why purchase honey imported from Brazil when there is a perfectly good apiary within ten miles of your establishment?
- Waste Management – You’ve seen it before: reduce, reuse, recycle. Do your part to decrease the amount of trash that ends up in the landfill each year. Compost vegetable peels and coffee grounds, find additional uses for leftovers (turn uneaten fruit into smoothies, for instance), buy multipurpose cleaners, utilize supplies made of recycled (and recyclable) materials, minimize over-prepping and unnecessary waste with hourly/daily production charts, save meat and vegetable trimmings for soup stock; the list goes on and on.
- Energy Efficiency – Just like with water conservation, monitoring your energy usage has the added bonus of cutting your operating expenses while also doing good for the Earth. Help mitigate humanity’s effect on the environment, combat climate change, and lower your electricity bills all at once.
- Eco-Friendly Farming – 9% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to agriculture. Fertilizer, soil degradation, animal manure, and air/water pollution are all serious concerns related to farming. Choosing to work with partners/suppliers that help protect the landscape, reduce pollution, and fight the loss of biodiversity is key to the sustainability of your restaurant.
- Local and Seasonal Food – As mentioned in the Environment section, many chefs and restaurant owners have found it makes more sense to work with suppliers that are closer to home rather than shipping ingredients from halfway around the world. However, it’s important to note that sometimes purchasing produce from hundreds of miles away may have a smaller carbon footprint than your local farmer’s operation. Some chefs are even taking things a step further and establishing onsite gardens to supply their own restaurants. Indeed, when it comes to herbs, fruits, and vegetables, it’s hard to find a fresher option.
- Sustainable Seafood – It’s no secret that certain types of seafood are in higher demand than others, but this preference for some species over others has had a significant negative impact on our rivers and oceans. Overfishing is destroying biodiversity in many areas and stocks of some fish have decreased to the point of near-extinction. For this reason, it’s very important to know where your seafood is raised/caught and it may be necessary to consider other options (including so-called “trash fish”) to satisfy your customers.
- Ethical Meat/Dairy – For the most part, free range animals are happier and healthier than ones raised in factory farm environments. They are also more expensive, but most consumers are willing to pay a little more to ensure that their food was not needlessly harmed or exposed to inhumane treatment or disease. Forming relationships with local farms can immediately increase the sustainability of your restaurant on a number of fronts by cutting your supply chain costs, patronizing local vendors, and avoiding factory farms altogether. It must be noted, however, that some purists consider meat inherently unsustainable due to the amount of resources required to raise an animal to maturity.
- Fair Trade – If you do extra research to guarantee that the meat and dairy you use comes from suppliers concerned with the welfare of the animals they raise, it stands to reason that you should also be worried about the quality of life those farmers enjoy. Patronizing vendors that uphold fair trade standards allows you to rest easy knowing that the people involved are treated equitably by their employers and are not coerced or mistreated in any way.