8 Ways to Practice Restaurant Sustainability

Sustainability is a growing concern for consumers, and every restaurant has an important role to play in promoting environmental responsibility.

From reducing waste to sourcing sustainable packaging, there are many practices that restaurants can implement to reduce their environmental impact and contribute to a healthier planet.

Restaurants can practice sustainability by:

burger and fries in a brown takeout box, restaurant sustainability

What is restaurant sustainability?

As consumers become more environmentally conscious, sustainability is becoming increasingly important for businesses, including restaurants.

The foodservice industry is a significant contributor to environmental degradation, from food production to waste disposal. This is where restaurant sustainability comes in.

Restaurant sustainability involves operating in an environmentally responsible way to minimize impact.

Restaurants can achieve sustainability by reducing energy and water consumption, minimizing waste, sourcing sustainable and locally produced ingredients, and supporting ethical labour practices.

Sustainability practices can also benefit restaurants by improving their brand reputation, attracting environmentally conscious customers, and reducing energy, water, and waste consumption.

Overall, practicing sustainability is a win-win for restaurants as they contribute to a healthier planet and benefit their business in the process.

How do we measure restaurant sustainability?

Restaurants can measure sustainability by conducting a sustainability audit to evaluate their current practices and identify areas for improvement.

This includes their water consumption, energy usage, food waste, and transportation practices.

They can also utilize sustainability metrics to measure and track their environmental impact over time. Metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and waste rates can help restaurants set targets for improvement.

Restaurants can also collaborate with sustainability organizations like local environmental groups, non-profit organizations, or government agencies to access resources and support for sustainability initiatives. 

These organizations may offer sustainability training, education, or technical assistance.

Lastly, restaurants can seek sustainability certifications, such as the Green Restaurant Certification, which can help them track their sustainability goals and progress.

brown paper bag with uber eats delivery receipt attached

8 ways your restaurant can practice sustainability

1. Ditch single-use plastic

We all know how harmful plastics are to the environment, especially when they’re single-use. 

Takeout and delivery are a massive part of the restaurant business, so bringing sustainability to this department can make all the difference.

Straws, takeout containers, cutlery, napkins, and cups are all single-use when it comes to takeout, even if the material is labelled “reusable.” Once the consumer finishes their meal, they’ll toss those items into the trash.

So, how can your restaurant practice sustainability when it comes to delivery and takeout? 

Ditch single-use plastic entirely.

Replace all your single-use takeaway products with compostable versions. And make sure to opt for truly sustainable products, so that you don’t fall for greenwashing marketing tactics.

The best eco-friendly materials for fully compostable disposables are wood, sugarcane fibre, bagasse, and paper. All of these materials are 100% biodegradable and come from renewable sources. 

Bioplastics may seem like a great alternative to single-use plastic, but they can leave toxic elements behind, like microplastic. They also require specific conditions to compost.

If you’re looking to bring sustainability to your restaurant, then wood cutlery, bagasse containers, and paper straws are your best bets. All are 100% compostable, biodegradable, and won’t leave a trace behind when composted.

Learn More: The Single-Use Plastic Ban Breakdown

2. Compost compost compost

Landfills are only growing, and food waste is a big part of that growth. But it doesn’t have to be trash.

When composted, food waste turns into natural fertilizers. 

Having a compost bin at your establishment, or partnering with a local food scrap collection company, can help boost sustainability at your restaurant. 

Scraps, rotten food, and unfinished meals can all get dumped into your compost bin. And if you have compostable foodservice ware or packaging, you can encourage your customers to compost. 

It’s important that your staff (and customers) are aware of what can and can’t be composted. Have them familiarize themselves or keep a compost list on the wall near your bin.

Compostable items often vary by city, so be sure to check your local waste management facility’s website for the latest information.

Learn More: Compostable versus Biodegradable: What’s the difference?

hands chopping vegetables, restaurant sustainability

3. Reduce food waste

More than 900 million tonnes of food is thrown away annually, with 26% coming from the foodservice industry.

Food waste is the most common landfilled material and is one of the largest contributors of methane gas. 

But that’s not the only impact that food has on our environment. 

Mass amounts of water, fossil fuel, and energy are needed to grow, produce, and transport food, only adding to greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

This doesn’t mean that restaurant sustainability relies on shrinking the menu.

Instead, restaurants can purchase less food at a time to ensure that current inventory doesn’t go to waste. 

Investing in an inventory management software can help you know what you have in stock and what needs replenishing. Or you could simply keep track in a spreadsheet or notebook.

A lack of inventory management is often the cause of food waste. Storing too many of the same products, causing them to go bad before you use them, or forgetting what you have in storage are often the culprit situations that cause food waste.

Inventory management is an easy act of restaurant sustainability that reduces food waste and inventory costs.

running silver kitchen sink

4. Use less water and electricity

Cutting down on water and electricity use is an easy way to practice sustainability.

Conserving water is as important as ever with the rise in droughts and fires. The simplest way to use less is to turn taps off when you’re not using them in the kitchen. 

Kitchens can be busy and bustling, which makes it easy to leave the water running. Consider investing in motion-activated or touch faucets that will turn themselves off when staff walk away. 

And as far as consumers go, it’s possible to reduce customer water use by installing low-flow faucets and low-flush toilets in the bathrooms. Motion-activated faucets can also be installed to encourage less water usage.

When it comes to energy conservation, it may be worth investing in energy-efficient appliances. This way, your restaurant can reduce emissions and use less energy.

But the simplest way to conserve energy would be to turn the lights off. This may mean installing timers or motion sensors on lights or training staff to be vigilant and turn the lights off when they leave a room.

By using these tactics, you’ll be able to reduce your carbon footprint and enjoy a lower utility bill.

5. Make sustainable deliveries

Delivery is an essential revenue stream for restaurants. But transportation is one of the largest offenders of greenhouse gas emissions, and food delivery is a part of that.

An average personal vehicle, which is commonly used for  popular food delivery apps, emits roughly 4.6 metric tonnes of greenhouse gasses yearly.  

Doordash has over one million delivery drivers in the US alone, meaning that Doordash delivery drivers emit more than 4.6 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas per year. 

Restaurants can help reduce their carbon footprint by opting for eco-friendly modes of delivery.

Transportation like bicycles and scooters are great options depending on how far away the order is. For longer deliveries, electric vehicles will help reduce emissions.

Restaurants can also optimize their deliveries by prioritizing deliveries close to one another instead of in the order they’re received.

This way, delivery drivers travel shorter distances and can deliver multiple orders in one go.

courier pickup brown bag with receipt

In a world of convenience, it’s easy to order the food you need with fast shipping from anywhere in the world. 

And with lower prices and year-round availability, it can make a restaurant owner’s life much easier.

But when imported, food must travel long distances, creating a large carbon footprint. It takes considerable energy to store, refrigerate, and transport it. Not to mention the chemicals and pesticides that may be needed to keep produce fresh.

And sometimes, food takes too long to arrive and goes rotten before it reaches the restaurant. Approximately 30% of food waste occurs along the supply chain.

One of the best ways to be more sustainable is to source food locally. This way, the emissions needed to reach your restaurant are minimal.

If you shop locally, this would mean only purchasing produce in season. 

Consider implementing a seasonal menu. This way, you can shop local, be sustainable, and offer a wide range of exciting dishes year-round.

7. Offer plant-based options

Meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gasses from food production. Beef alone emits just under 50kg of CO2 equivalents per 100 grams of protein.

Reducing meat and dairy consumption is one of the most significant ways restaurants and individuals can reduce their carbon footprint.

The demand for plant-based options grows yearly. By 2030, the demand is expected to grow fivefold, from $29.4 billion in 2020 to $162 billion.

Restaurants can meet this demand and introduce sustainability by offering less meat or more plant-based options. 

And these options can go beyond a basic marinara pasta or salad. There is room for plant-based creativity, and consumers are starting to expect it.

women having a picnic with food in takeout containers, restaurant sustainability

8. Go paperless

Another easy solution to practice sustainability in your restaurant is to reduce paper usage.

Think about every area of your business where paper is used and whether or not it’s necessary. 

Offering e-receipts or only printing them if requested is a great way to reduce use. And if your menu changes frequently, implementing a digital menu may be best instead of printing fresh menus every season.

For products like napkins, choosing eco-friendly options that can be properly composted can help bring sustainability to your restaurant.

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