From restaurant advertising to consumer reviews, focusing on turning your establishment into one that impacts the environment less is more important than ever. Besides tech innovations, one of the industry’s biggest shifts in recent years has been toward green practices and sustainability.
Oftentimes and in general, people are confused about going green and sustainability. It is important to remember that sustainability is about specific issues. On the other hand, going green is about “…activities that provide a more efficient use of resources and minimize the harmful impact on the environment when compared to similar products…” as defined by World Atlas.
Why Going Green Matters
Of course, the biggest and most obvious reason for going green is that we need to take care of our planet. According to Michael Oshman, CEO and founder of the Green Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry is “the largest consumer of electricity in the retail sector…” and “…consumes one-third of all US energy used by the retail sector.” The Green Restaurant Association is a nonprofit organization that has helped thousands of restaurants become more environmentally conscientious. But there are also practical, everyday reasons to go green in the restaurant industry including cost-effectiveness.
Green practices, simply put, are cost-effective. “Restaurants … could save anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000-plus [dollars] a year,” Oshman says. Just as one example, “There are certain retrofits that you can put on your faucets that can save thousands of dollars. Between waste and water and energy, there is a great opportunity to save money.”
Why Going Green Matters
Enough time has passed that in cities and larger metropolitan areas being green is a norm. It is quite rare to find no green practices in place; at minimum, recycling of glass, paper, and cardboard. It would simply be strange to have no eco-friendly practices, and it would be greatly frowned upon by customers. In a 2018 National Restaurant Association survey, “about half of consumers say that a restaurant’s efforts to recycle, donate food or reduce food waste can be factors in where they choose to dine.”
Being environmentally friendly also improves morale among staff, especially with the younger generations. Pride in where you work leads to pride in what you do, and in turn that leads to excellent work practices.
Ways to Reduce Your Restaurant’s Ecological Footprints
Among the countless number of ways to be greener and reduce your restaurant’s environmental impact, try implementing one or more of the following:
The Basic of Going Green: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Recycling is typical everywhere, and more recently has become mandatory is some large metros. A successful recycling effort can drastically reduce your waste, but it needs to be constantly monitored and wholeheartedly supported. All that is needed for this is a recycling program through your local rubbish collector or a place to recycle items. Simply purchase several bins, mark them (if not already), and make every effort to fill them. Since most recycling programs are free, your restaurant will save money in cutting rubbish bills.
Use recycled-content paper products and commit to buying products in returnable, reusable, or recyclable containers. This should include hand towels, napkins, take-out containers, and single-use cutlery. Some restaurants are now only purchasing multiple-use cutlery made from sustainable and environmentally friendly sugar cane and other compostable components.
Additionally, consider implementing a point-of-sale system with the ability to text/email receipts and a digital kitchen display system. This not only cuts down on the amount of paper that is used in your operation but, as stated by Management of Village Cafe, “Our cooks are able to deliver correct items in record time. We have also seen revenue increase from nothing more than being able to charge for add-ons (modifiers).”
One of the many sustainability initiatives practiced by companies is the use of biodegradable cleaning products and unbleached recycled-paper paper products. The best news here is that some brands of products are 100% wind-energy dependent, and they divert about 80% of their waste through composting and recycling.
Secondary Considerations: Conserving Energy and Water
An analysis by the Department of Energy shows that restaurants are the most energy-intensive businesses in the commercial sector—meaning most energy per square foot. Picture a restaurant kitchen. With ovens, broilers, fryers, stovetops, grills, ice machines, beverage machines, walk-in refrigerators and dishwashers, you’d be hard-pressed to find another type of business with comparable energy needs. Instead of replacing every component of your restaurant, start with what you can afford.
Start with tracking your restaurant’s energy usage. Reduce your energy bill every month by setting up a startup/shutdown schedule for all equipment. Not all equipment needs to be turned on first thing in the morning, and having a set schedule can save you money. If you are looking to invest in a streamlined system, consider automating your start-up and shutdown schedules so you don’t have to do a thing.
Use Energy Star compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) instead of traditional incandescent bulbs in storerooms, break rooms, offices, wall sconces, kitchen exhaust hoods and walk-in refrigerators. Additionally, use motion-censored light-switches that will automatically turn off after a lack of motion (usually 10-15 minutes).
The EPA, in partnership with WaterSense, has a helpful checklist for ways you can reduce water use, including dishwasher upgrades and more efficient spray valves. Again, the rewards for being mindful are multifold: Becoming more water-efficient can decrease operating costs by 11%, the EPA report states.
Install low-flow aerators on all faucets. This is probably the easiest and cheapest way to reduce your water consumption. Use low flow pre-rinse spray nozzles at the dish machine. Many water utility companies provide low flow nozzles for free. Quality aerators are inexpensive and once installed can effectively reduce the amount of water used each time a faucet is turned on. You’ll be surprised just how much water is saved each month, just by putting this into place. Consider using ultra low-flow toilets and flow restrictors on restroom faucets as well.
Advanced Green Practices
Composting is easier than you may think, and there are often others eager to help in this green practice. In the same way recycling helps reduce garbage, composting is the best way to reduce food waste and improve your restaurant’s “green” footprint. Treat composting as the next step once you’ve established your restaurant’s basic recycling efforts.
One restaurant that sets a high standard for waste reduction is Farm and Table in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Farm and Table composts all food scraps and recycles with the city, according to office manager Leigh Hile; local sourcing is also at the core of the restaurant’s practices and values. In fact, it may be a good idea to discuss options with your local city’s rubbish and recycling center.
Greener Food Supply Options
Sustainable and green food options are a feature in an impressive number of restaurants. Generally speaking, it is about partnering with local farmers, and often referred to as a farm-to-table philosophy. A couple of examples of successful farm-to-table uses include:
- The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, not only buys local ingredients but even grows them on campus, so students can use them in class. Many high-end hotels have also incorporated this practice.
- Founding Farmers in Washington, DC, the capital’s first LEED Gold Certified restaurant, is owned by more than 40,000 farmers in the North Dakota Farmers Union. The restaurant gets its ingredients from hundreds of family farms.
Additionally, decide on incorporating other green practices with food such as cutting down on vehicle emissions through regular deliveries and ensuring proper inventory management.
The Art of Persistent and Consistent Practices
Your green initiatives can only be successful with motivated and properly trained staff to back up your recycling plan and follow your water consumption guidelines. Make sure your goals and intentions are made clear, and that the green practices you want your staff to implement are discussed regularly. Also be sure to share cost-savings with them when implementing a new green practice, it can be motivation to see if they can ‘beat’ savings in future months.
Get Certified as a Green Restaurant!
If your restaurant is truly eco-friendly, show your customers your commitment by going through the Green Restaurant Association’s certification process. Their process includes consultation and evaluation, along with how to implement additional practices before certification can be accomplished. Their site at dinegreen.com even includes a free test to see where your restaurant stands. When a restaurant is certified by the GRA, you know it meets clear environmental standards regarding energy, water, waste, disposables, pollution, and, of course, food.
So how do you go “green”? From buying efficient equipment and switching out light fixtures to locally sourcing produce and keeping your restaurant supply stocked with recyclable and compostable materials, it really is easy to go green. Start small and work up to a full-fledged program over time, train staff, and you’ll be greener than you thought possible.