At Big Wheel Burger, a carbon-neutral fast-food concept, everything on the service tray is compostable, significantly reducing the amount of waste produced.
Because they deal with food every day, restaurant operators are arguably more aware than most of the impact of climate change. Water shortages, drought, rising temperatures and shrinking glaciers all increasingly affect the availability and quality of ingredients.
All the more reason for restaurant operators to take steps to reduce their own carbon footprint, say consultants Jill Doucette and J.C. Scott.
Doucette is founder of Victoria, BC-based Synergy Enterprises, a corporate sustainability management firm, and Scott is an eco-designer of restaurants and resorts.
Both argue that going green is good for business. Not only will restaurant operators save money in the long run, but developing environmentally sound policies also helps improve both employee retention and customer loyalty.
Here are Doucette and Scott’s top eight ways to green your business:
1. Rethink purchasing to reduce waste. Restaurants produce large volumes of waste that can result in high monthly trash removal fees, though much of that waste could be avoided or diverted, said Doucette.
It’s generally more expensive to order ingredients in single-use packaging, which also creates more costly garbage. Look for ways to reduce packaging and buy local. The farther ingredients have to travel, the more packaging and energy required.
2. Audit energy needs. From lighting to hot water use, restaurant operators should conduct audits to see how much they’re using and where they can change.
New technologies, like LED light bulbs, might cost more initially but they use 75 percent to 90 percent less electricity and last an average of 25 years. Installing foot-operated on/off switches at wash stations reduce water waste when hands are full. “These things are measurable, and we like measurable changes because the bean counters can see what’s working,” Doucette says.
3. Switch from paper towels to air hand dryers. Using paper towels can be 10 times more expensive than the cost of electric hand dryers, said Doucette. Paper towels also add to the waste load.
4. Buy Energy Star-rated equipment or better. In some regions, rebates or grants might be available for early adopters. There has been a lot of research into appliances and fixtures and credible agencies can identify which are the most effective, says Doucette.
5. Track and share utility use. Keep a weekly or monthly tally of your energy consumption, waste costs and water use and share results with management on a regular basis. “The more people measure their results, the more they’re incentivized to go further,” said Scott.
Restaurants can also reward general managers for reducing utility use, and get employees involved at all levels. “Restaurants are largely populated by young workers who have a high awareness of the environment, and they really get behind these programs,” Scott notes.
6. Look for lower-impact patio heating. Doucette said propane patio heaters often are a problem area when there are better technologies available, including infrared heaters or even photovoltaic panels on the roof in sunny spots. “The idea is to move away from fossil fuels,” says Scott.
One simple solution: only turn on patio heaters when needed. “Restaurants often turn them on when they open and there’s no one sitting under them for six hours,” said Doucette. “A lot of sustainability has to do with opening and closing duties.”
7. Green your building. Scott contends that restaurants can be designed in ways that have a huge impact. Putting in skylights can reduce the need for daytime lighting. Awnings over windows can cut the need for air conditioning. And proper ceiling insulation can help reduce both heating and cooling costs. Scott is a fan of rooftop gardens, where possible, because they combine the benefits of insulation and fresh ingredients.
8. Tell your story. Restaurants can be hugely influential in their communities. Seeing environmentally friendly practices in place at a restaurant can inspire guests to make changes at home. “There’s a real ripple effect,” says Doucette.