Restaurateurs' Search for SustainabilityBy Kari Morales, Green Seal Winter 2014 Intern During the thirty years I have spent working as a cake decorator, baker, and chocolatier, I have watched rising food and transportation costs and increased consumer demand for healthier and more sustainable menu choices create new challenges for restaurant owners and managers. These restaurateurs, working long hours and with notoriously small profit margins, are faced with increasingly complex purchasing decisions and questions about how to prioritize sustainability efforts. No longer are they simply responsible for putting out a menu that is both delicious and visually appealing, but because consumers are demanding, they must consider the environmental impacts of the foods they serve, the energy they use, and the waste they create. While pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Business Management, I had the opportunity to delve more deeply into sustainability in the food business. I interviewed ten owners and managers of small sustainable food businesses, and found that, while the issues faced were fairly universal, each had a unique perspective and differing priorities as they worked to increase the sustainability of their operations. They grappled with decisions about sustainable packaging, ingredient sourcing, and recycling logistics but had very little time and resources for researching their options. While conducting my research I noticed that there are many articles on “greening” a restaurant, but they contain differing advice and often do not have any guidance on prioritizing efforts. A recent National Restaurant Association survey of 1,300 chefs found that eight of the top twenty trends for 2014 involve local and sustainable sourcing, environmental sustainability, and the reduction of food waste. Many of those surveyed believe that the issues contributing to these trends will continue to be relevant over the next ten years. So, how can restaurant owners make decisions with confidence that they are choosing the truly sustainable option? Where should they focus their limited time and financial resources? And how can they communicate their sustainability efforts to their customers without being accused of greenwashing? Although Green Seal is best known for its product certifications, it has been busy developing standards for services too. Green Seal’s Pilot Restaurant Certification Standard was based on the life-cycle analysis of six Chicago restaurants and 8 Chicago restaurants have participated in the pilot standard for the past year. The life-cycle analysis divided the environmental impact of the six restaurants into four areas of impact:
- Food Procurement – the environmental impact of the production of food and the associated waste from field to processing through delivery to the restaurant.
- Food Storage – the energy used to store food at the restaurant
- Food Preparation – the energy and water used in food production
- Operations – energy use for lighting and climate control, water use, packaging and supplies.
All takeaway items shall be:
- made with recovered-content
- compostable where composting is available.
ReferencesBaldwin, C., Wilberforce, N., & Kapur, A. (2011). Restaurant and food service life cycle assessment and development of a sustainability standard. International Journal Of Life Cycle Assessment, 16(1), 40-49. doi:10.1007/s11367-010-0234-x.