Sustainability in Foodservice

We all know industries need to be more sustainable. But what does that mean, and what can a busy foodservice operator do to help save the planet?

“Sustainability means making operating choices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” says Vancouver-based consultant André Larivière, who’s helped many restaurants “go green” and developed a certificate program called The Sustainable Foodservice Professional.

Going green is also good for business, says Larivière. Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, truly care about environmental issues and sustainability and will support even a modest effort.

Since many of the supply systems, products and services today’s foodservice industry relies on are not sustainable, he suggests picking one aspect of your operation that matters to you and your team and get going.

Take energy use. A typical full-service restaurant consumes more energy per square foot than hospitals, small factories and every other kind of retail, he says. And did you know a single deep fryer consumes as much energy per month as a three-bedroom home?

If you’re building from scratch or renovating your current space, switching to Energy Star appliances and building in energy-saving devices from cool companies like Quebec’s EcoAzur will definitely be cost-effective, he says.

Big chains have already discarded the traditional kitchen with its line of gas burners and giant ventilation hoods, switching to induction ranges, combi-ovens, electric fryers and multi-use plug-in appliances that let staff produce more in less space and allow restaurants to reconfigure their kitchen easily if the menu or concept changes.

In the meantime, there are many things even the smallest restaurateur can do to become a better corporate citizen.

“The evidence is clear, and getting clearer every day,” says Larivière. “Given the accelerating pace of the climate crisis and its effects on our communities, everybody and every business needs to make an effort.”

Begin a Sustainability Plan Now

Small changes can add up over time and foodservice operators with minimal effort, no matter the size of their kitchen, can immediately implement better operational choices for the environment.  Many of these strategies not only help the environment but also save money, too.

Cut Energy Costs 

     • Monitor your water usage on utility bills; repair leaks and broken equipment promptly.
     • Don’t waste water by letting taps run, e.g. to thaw meat or fish.
     • If possible, run the dishwasher when full.
     • Install low-flow toilets and urinals and automatic on/off controls for hand sinks.
     • Use motion sensors in high-use areas such as storerooms, washrooms and loading areas.
     • Install LED lights and energy-efficient windows.
     • Track, measure and share positive results with your team.

 For a more in depth look into this topic, check out our how to reduce energy use in foodservice article.

New energy efficient light bulbs

Adopt a Zero Waste Menu

Even the world’s leading macro-economists recommend a farm-to-table approach to keep real food accessible and affordable for future generations. And you won’t need a big freezer to store it.

     • Start by creating a select number of farm-fresh dishes, incorporating every bit of every ingredient in side dishes, condiments, preserves, etc.
     • Buy certified organic or sustainable meats, dairy and produce. Choose seafood from programs such as OceanWise or MSC.
     • Add more plant-based vegan and vegetarian items to your menu.
     • Work with local farms to learn what’s in season. Items such as local mushrooms are grown year-round.
     • Practice nose-to-tail cooking by preparing different parts of an animal so nothing goes to waste.
     • Repurpose often-discarded parts of fruits and vegetables, e.g. use broccoli stems in broccoli cheddar soup or coleslaw.
     • Buy “imperfect” produce.
     • Ordering and storing just the amount of food you need produces less waste.
     • Ask suppliers to cut down on packaging and buy local where possible.
     • Buy Fair Trade coffee and tea and regional wine and beer.
     • Replace bottled water with a system that dispenses still and sparkling water. Serve water only on demand.
     • Use bulk instead of single-serve condiments.
     • Donate or process surplus food before composting.

Larivière warns not to engage in ‘greenwashing,’ e.g. listing local farms on your menu because you bought some product from them once. “Today’s consumers are smarter and better informed,” he says, “and those who really care will ‘out’ you on social media.”

For more information, read our article How to Reduce Food Waste in Commercial Kitchens.

People grabbing freshly picked produce

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Waste Not

     • Know the recycling and composting rules in your area.
     • Provide convenient recycling collection bins, marked with exactly what goes in it, for staff and quick-service customers.
     • Recycle or eliminate packaging where possible.
     • Replace single-use plastics with recyclable or compostable items accepted in your community.
     • Use recycled paper for signs and menus or provide a contact-less menu: a QR code menu on the table has been popular during COVID. Move your marketing online.
     • Stock plastic-free bags, straws, utensils, condiment ramekins and take-out containers.

“Whichever actions you decide to take,” says Larivière, “it’s crucial that everyone on the operations and management team know how to implement and support sustainable measures. Why? Because, whether they care deeply about sustainability or not, they need to understand how to make it work in their daily tasks.”

Written by Cynthia David

Sustainability written with environmental backgrounds